Self-help hub helps poor women in Mogadishu to thrive in business – Radio Ergo

(ERGO) – Life turned around for Saynab Mohamoud Ibrahim and her family after she started a small business selling clothes and utensils on her doorstep in Bondhere district, in the Somali capital Mogadishu, with support from a local self-help group.

“This business has made it possible for me to pay my children’s school fees, some at university level. As for myself, I have learnt to read and write in Somali and how to do calculations,” she said, with a sense of achievement.

Saynab, 60, was working as a cleaner before joining a business investment programme run by local NGO Youthlink Somalia with funding from Concern Worldwide. She is among 300 poor women supporting families in Bondhere, Karan and Wadajir districts who started a business in 2020. The NGO selected the women with the help of local neighbourhood committees and placed them in groups of 10 members. They opened group savings accounts for the women in local banks and gave them start-up capital to invest in business.

“When they saw that we were making strides in our business we were topped up with another $1,500. We can take loans now, whereas nobody used to give us any credit. I used to cook one meal a day, but now we cook three meals,” she said.

Saynab said she used to beg her better-off neighbours to contribute towards the school and university fees of her three children. She now pays their fees alone and even moved her family from a flimsy hut in November 2021 to a decent rented home in Bondhere.

Youthlink Somalia started this self-help women’s group in 2012 in Banadir region and has since supported a total of 600 local women. Youthlink deposits $1,500 to bank accounts they set up for each group of 10 women. The women can decide to withdraw part of the money and set up a group business or to withdraw an agreed amount for each member to start her individual business. The women have to refund the money in small installments from their business profits. The NGO monitors the transactions online and if the money is being managed well, Youthlink deposits another $1,500 as a savings installment.

Sahra Jelle Ahmed was among the earliest groups formed in 2013. She and her team were trained over a year, and she now owns a shop selling food supplies and fresh vegetables. They receive ongoing business development and literacy skills trainings offered by the NGO.

“We were trained on customer relations and how to help your colleagues when they are in need. For example, when someone from our team is unable to pay house rent or their child is ill, we meet and seek each other’s consent to loan money to the person to repay later. For us, that is how we assist each other,” explained Sahra, who makes a profit of seven dollars a day from her shop.

Sahra said she is comfortably paying the school fees for her children, including her daughter at university. She has also rented her family’s three-bedroomed house at $150 per month.

Maka Mohamoud Sanay is part of the first group under this initiative. She told Radio Ergo that they were encouraged to save 20,000 Somali shillings every Friday. When they saved up enough money, they were asked to share their savings equally and start their own businesses.

“We were just working as house cleaners to support ourselves. I always learned that only those with wealth could own a business and never did I think that we could also start a business with our little savings,” she said.

Maka said she gets emotional when she remembers the hardships her family went through and where they are now.

“We were taught how to save, which we didn’t know before. We used to spend the little we earned, but now if we get two dollars we save one and spend the other,” said Maka, who sells mattresses and plastic mats at her home.

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