Mogadishu Tech Summit: thousands come, millions pledged for innovation

November 24, 2019

A participant takes a selfie with her friends at the Mogadishu Tech Summit in Somalia on 21 November 2019. UN Photo / Ilyas Ahmed.

Mogadishu, 21 November 2019 –  This year’s Mogadishu Tech Summit came to a successful close in the Somali capital today amidst words of praise and encouragement from the government and the United Nations, with pledges worth millions of dollars to support  technological advancement in Somalia.

In a closing speech, Jamal Hassan, the country’s Minister of Planning, Investment and Economic Development urged the need for greater support for technological advancement and innovation: “As you all know, Somalia has economic, security and environmental challenges. Harnessing the strength of our youth to help explore innovative solutions in science and technology is our best chance to successfully overcoming those challenges.”

The Minister’s message was echoed by other speakers at the gathering, including the European Union Ambassador to Somalia Nicolas Berlanga Martines, the UNDP Resident Representative for Somalia Jocelyn Mason, the Swedish Ambassador to Somalia Staffan Tillander, and the US Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission Brian Neubert.

More than 5000 people attended this year’s Mogadishu Technology Summit. The three-day annual event was the second of its kind and again brought together Somalis involved in the tech industry and representatives from the government, UN agencies, international partners, investors and financial institutions – some of whom generously pledged millions of dollars in support.

Salaam Bank pledged $5 million to be made available over the next three years to innovators and entrepreneurs. Access to these funds will be provided through Somalia’s first-ever technology innovation hub, iRise, which promotes collaboration between innovators and investors. The hub also offers resources needed by budding entrepreneurs and startups, such as business training, mentorship, project evaluation and support during the incubation stages of their projects.

Last year, Premier Bank injected $1 million into the Tech Summit and almost a quarter of that amount has already been disbursed to emerging innovators and entrepreneurs.

Awil Osman, the Chief Executive Officer of the iRise hub that organized the summit, explained the purpose of the event: “The main reason we organized Mogadishu Tech Summit is to bring together innovators, entrepreneurs, social activists and young people from throughout Somalia and the diaspora so that they can share their experiences and ideas for solving the problems our country and people face through entrepreneurship and social innovations.”

Link to the Sustainable Development Goals

In his remarks, UNDP Resident Representative Jocelyn Mason referred to the links between the aims of the Tech Summit and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. These goals  provide a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, he emphasised, adding that the SDGs are at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“The summit is an excellent opportunity for Somalia, Somali people and especially young people to discuss the future of their country and explore new ways to overcome issues like climate change, water scarcity and ultimately to achieve the Sustainable Developments Goals through innovation and technology”.

Mr. Mason introduced the audience to UNDP's first ever accelerator lab in Somalia, one of sixty accelerator labs that have been set up in 78 countries across the world, with the support of the Federal Republic of Germany and the State of Qatar.

The goal of the labs is to build the world's largest and fastest learning network to speed up responses and solutions to development challenges.

A local team of explorers, mappers and experimenters has already been brought on board to map out innovative solutions on the ground in areas such as improving access to water, healthcare and information technology --to help create jobs, develop new skills and improve the quality of life of all Somali people.

Innovations presented

Some 40 young innovators exhibited their various technological inventions at the end of the Summit.

Among the innovations that have been developed is a mobile app to increase access to blood banks and safe blood transfusion. The app, called ‘Hibeeye’, which means ‘donor’ in Somali, was developed by Abdullahi Alas and his team.

The idea for the app was inspired by the plight of victims in the aftermath of the Mogadishu bombings of 14 October 2017 – an attack that killed at least 587 people and injured hundreds more. “One of the lessons we learned from that tragedy,” explains Abdullahi, “is that people need to be able to locate safe blood transfusion and blood banks much more easily. So we came up with this idea to help connect people who want to donate blood to people who are in need.”

The Hibeeye app is already being used in Mogadishu by donors and those in need of blood, making a vital contribution to public health and urban resilience.

This year’s Tech Summit winner of the competition for Best Innovation went to a start-up proposal for a company using local raw materials to manufacture lotions and hair and body oils.

The Sadra Beauty Company is the brainchild of an all-woman team who set out with the aim of establishing a business that makes use of home-grown products rather than depending on imports. Co-founder Ifra Isse Mohamed described some of the company’s wide range of ingredients and ingenious products:

“We try out hundreds of combinations of locally grown products. Our lotions, for example, use avocado, carrots and even cactus. We want our cosmetics to appeal to lots of tastes. And not just women, by the way! Our lip balms are selling to as many men as women already.’