EIT Spotlight: Ahmed Elmi

Sylvana Lewin, Wednesday December 19th 2018

This year, we welcomed EITs from 12 different countries to form the MEST Class of 2019. Several member of the new cohort are among the first people from their home countries to come to MEST. We took the opportunity  to get to know the EITs from these new countries and learn more about why they came to MEST.

This week we heard from Ahmed Elmi, the first EIT from Somalia!

Where are you from?

I am from Somalia, but grew up abroad in Holland and the UK. However, for the last couple of years I’ve been living back in Somalia.

How did you hear about MEST?

I was actually going to apply for a job with Meltwater and as part of my research to learn more about the organization, I came across MEST. I was super intrigued and decided to get on LinkedIn to message Jorn to see if I could appy with my background as a member of the Somali diaspora. He put me in touch with Natasha and while I missed out on the 2018 cycle, I was in time for the 2019 cycle.

What made you decide to come to MEST?

So many things. The first thing was going through a structured system of tackling problems and being taught the required skill sets in tech, business, and communication. Aside from that, the opportunity to meet fellow Africans was a big thing for me as I grew up in the diaspora and was only familiar with East Africans. This was an opportunity to spend a whole year in West Africa where I had never been before and meet people. Now I am here and grappling with Meteor!

Why do you believe tech entrepreneurship is important?

I think it is very important in the digital age for a host of reasons. Personally, I studied Politics and International Relations in order to get into policy to tackle problems in the governance space. I went to Somalia and spoke with a ton of political analysts, MPs, and Senators to figure out how I could contribute. I came to the conclusion that working in the governance system was not going to be as impactful as going via the private enterprise route to tackle specific public problems (infrastructure, healthcare, etc.). I want to have a real and meaningful impact that lasts on the ground.

Tell me a bit about the tech entrepreneurship ecosystem in your country. What are your hopes for the future of that ecosystem? 

So far it is early days and the ecosystem is just developing. Unfortunately, the security situation is fragile and horrors are inflicted on the population, especially those who work to change things for the better in Somalia. A week before I arrived in Accra, an amazing soul was ripped from Somalia. Mohamed Sheikh Ali was a serial entrepreneur and also the Mogadishu Director of Startup Grind, which connects Somali tech entrepreneurs. He was assassinated in broad daylight because some saw him as a threat to the status quo. He was my cousin and a good friend. Horrors like this happen and sadly are the norm rather than the exception in Somalia right now. People are constantly reminded how fragile life is and that there are those who seek to rip it away from us at any given moment.

My hope is that we overcome these horrors in the memory of those bright stars we lost and get out of this nightmare. I am confident we will especially as more Somalis enter the tech space. I hope we get to a point where we have a solid ecosystem of co-working spaces, incubators/accelerators, and more.

Who/what inspires you?

My mother. She went through so much raising us while navigating new cultures, languages, and systems as a refugee on her own for a number of years. There was a time when there was violence in the refugee camps and it must have been so difficult to shield us. I remember her fighting a man who wanted to beat one of us. She does not mess around. Her fighting spirit did not just end with protecting us, but also setting an example for us in doing our best in life. She went back to school when we were accepted as refugees in Holland to learn the language, culture, and system to show us that educating yourself is important no matter what. We could not slack off at all after that! I am blessed to have my mom.

What would you like most to gain from this next year at MEST?

I want to grow as a person. I usually need a translator when someone starts talking tech concepts, so my goal is to be the translator for non-techies by the end of the year. I also want to be comfortable and proficient in building products and services using the lean methodology. I also want to be healthier this year and have already achieved a key milestone in weight loss by losing 13kg so far! I am looking forward to growing more on all levels.

Are you interested in becoming an EIT at MEST like Ahmed? Applications for the Class of 2020 are now open. Apply here!