By Abdi Jama
After being in Finland for 20 years, I felt a need to go back to my country of origin, Somaliland. Although I had received advanced education and gained extensive professional experiences in the Nordic countries, in different professional domains, in 2010 I felt Somaliland calling me to contribute to its reconstruction efforts. Somaliland is a self-declared independent state that still has to earn international recognition. It’s very peaceful and sometimes called the miracle of Africa as it has conducted many elections and presidential powers have been handed-over smoothly.
I had strong willingness to go back and help the nation, but it was not without worrying that things might not turn out as I expected. I signed a subcontract agreement with an international development organization to help improve the ICT systems of the Somaliland Civil Service Commission. As I reached the institution’s head-office there in the capital city, Hargeisa, it was immediately obvious that the possibility of executing my assignment as planned was extremely low. The infrastructure to build IT applications upon was not in place at all. It seemed like I had accepted an agreement to build the Great Pyramid of Egypt without sand and stones.
Two colleagues of mine who also been hired from Europe by the same agency could not survive the trial and decided to quit after several months and went back to their residency countries.
I was deeply challenged from all sides and sometimes felt powerless. I reminded myself when in 1990 I immigrated to Finland at the age of 18 without any family members and no international experience. What a cultural shock I experienced at that time. Everything was cold and everything automated. The biggest challenge at that time was the winter cold and that very few wanted to talk to me, except my Finnish teacher. I really felt alone at that time and I wonder if this was another #careercurveballs.
At this time, in Hargeisa, it’s warm and everybody wants to talk non-stop, but enjoying the sun and chatting all day was not why I went there. After 3 weeks without any work done, I adjusted my work-plan and instead of insisting on implementing a McKinsey-like consulting assignment in Europe, I decided to build things from the grassroots by training the executives about ICT and the impact technology can have on the development of the nation. I engaged with the top government leadership and convinced them that there was a need to improve the ICT infrastructure if they wanted to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the services they provide to public.
After three months of training leaders and mobilising support, the Civil Service Commission decided to establish a Civil Service Reform program. I was assigned to lead an international group of experts on the nation’s Civil Service Reform Technical Committee. We worked with five Cabinet Ministers who reported our efforts directly to the President. What an opportunity! We planned and created a national Civil Service Reform Strategy where ICT is a major component. In short, I led a national level change effort that produced historic achievements for Somaliland.
THE KEY: PERSISTENCE
If I had not persisted and not been adaptable and resilient to this career-curveball, I would not have had the opportunity to achieve such results. I am sure I would have been forever disappointed if I had quit in my first two months when we were stressed and so confused. I would not have been able to develop such a relationship with the nation, a relationship which continues today as the original project has been followed up by many others.
We humans know nothing about the future and how things might turnout tomorrow, therefore, we might give-up early when hit hard and lose focus.
In my experience in this situation and many others, it’s usually in these moments that a professional must persist and deal with the curveballs. Nothing has ever been achieved without persisting 99% more than the rest.
During my stay in Somaliland one of the places I enjoyed visiting was Laas Geel. The beautiful image above and below are from Laas Geel (Somaliland: Laas Geel), a complex of caves and rock shelters in Somaliland. Famous for their rock art, the caves are located in a rural area on the outskirts of Hargeisa. They contain some of the earliest known cave paintings in the Horn of Africa. Laas Geel’s rock art is estimated to date back to somewhere between 9,000–3,000 BCE.