Somali Businesswomen Band Together.



Halkaan ka akhri

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Fadumo Abdinur sells scarves, skirts, perfume, and odds and ends out of a 10-by-10-foot kiosk at a bazaar, paying $562 each month to rent the space. But she’d like to find her way out.


“I want to be able to be more independent,” said the Somali immigrant, offering a visitor a whiff of jasmine from a bottle on the shelf. “I want to own my own store.”

In the next few months, Abdinur and a few dozen others in one of the nation’s largest concentration of Somali immigrants may get that wish.


While Somali women have run small shops for years in Minneapolis, few have evolved beyond serving small cliques of fellow immigrants. But by pooling their money in a collective model used in Somalia, several of these shopkeepers are on the road to opening a cooperative department store that would cater to a broader audience and give them a greater stake in their financial future.

A promising idea is beginning to take shape after two years of planning: 21 women have pledged $500 apiece, and two business groups have each provided $20,000 for the development of a 10,000- to 15,000-square-foot mall of shops. Plans are to rent space in an undisclosed Minneapolis building by this summer, with perhaps 50 women eventually investing $5,000 apiece.

It would be the first such women’s Somali cooperative in the country, according to people involved in the enterprise. Most of the merchandise, as is the case at the existing Somali shops, will be imported from India, China or other countries.

“After going to so many Somali teas, these women finally said, ‘We want our own mall,’” said Sabah Yusuf, who is coordinating the effort through her work as director of the Aishah Center for Women, named for a wife of the Prophet Muhammad.

“I think there is the sense out there that we are the new kid on the block,” she said. “Not a lot of people think we will be able to make it.”

Minnesota, with its two prominent resettlement agencies, Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Service, has one of the largest concentrations of Somalis in the country. State demographers estimated that by 2005, 25,000 Somalis had resettled in the state since the early 1990s, when their country disintegrated into lawlessness. Somali leaders claim the population is at least twice the estimated figure.

In a pattern seen in many other cities with large immigrant populations, recent immigrant groups to Minnesota have found business success in the ethnic melting pot of south Minneapolis. About 400 Latino-owned shops, for instance, line a once-dilapitated stretch of Lake Street. A collection of ethnic restaurants and shops, the Midtown Global Market, also opened in 2006 along the avenue.

For Somali women, however, greater success has been out of reach. Many of the women who are investing in the mall can’t read or write, though they are whizzes with numbers because they’re already running their own shops. Moreover, their project appears to merge Western business practices with a shared model used back home.

Known as a hagebad, the system involves each woman contributing money to a kitty, some of which can be tapped by one woman each month on a rotating basis. It’s a way to share capital and provide money to women who may avoid credit or other banking services because of their religious beliefs. Islam forbids charging or paying interest, which keeps many Muslims, who make up most of Minnesota’s Somali community, away from most commercial banking.

“It’s very common in Africa for women to come together and put their money and their resources together,” said Fadumah Hashi, who runs a Somali bakery at the Midtown Global Market. “The men are always off doing their own thing.”

That has been especially true in recent years in Somalia, where many men have been killed in civil war while others have sent their families abroad.

Some shopkeepers, Yusuf said, are also slow to branch out because they believe that God will provide them with what they need and that women from their tribe will support their business.

“I have had to tell some of these women, ‘That’s a religion mentality talking, but there is also a business mentality to consider here,’” she said.

Indeed, 34 women have already come to workshops at Aishah to learn about everything from contracts to reading the fine print in leases.

Hussein Samatar, a Somali business consultant in the Twin Cities, said immigrant women who have run small shops need to broaden their market niche if they are going to succeed.

“The way it is now, you almost have to be African to take advantage — you have to be somebody who knows the inner workings of the community if you are going to buy from them,” he said. “This would be much easier. It would help them fully realize that.”

The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota and the Christian Sharing Fund, an arm of the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, have each contributed $20,000 in seed money toward the planning of the department store.

“They are really thinking outside of the box, and they’re determined,” said Cheryl Peterson, who helps to coordinate the Catholic fund. “I think they are breaking out and trying to think differently about where they are and who they are.”

For Abdinur, who came to the United States a decade ago after fleeing Somalia for Kenya, the cooperative offers the chance for her shop, Jamilo Store, to reach more people and prosper.

Source  The Associated Press

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