From humble beginnings: The amazing journey of Hormuud Telecom CEO Ahmed Mohamud Yusuf


We spoke to Ahmed Mohamud Yusuf, CEO of Hormuud Telecom and winner of the CEO of the Year Award at the World Communication Awards 2023, to discuss his extraordinary career journey and plans for the future

Your journey from the son of a camel herder to the CEO of the largest business in Somalia is fascinating. Can you tell us a little more about your upbringing and how it has shaped you as a leader?

Raised in rural Somalia, my life has been influenced by community values and the spirit of entrepreneurialism. My father’s hard work ethic enabled me to attend boarding school, which led to my first job as a door-to-door salesman. This experience allowed me to understand the diverse communities of Somalia, enriching my appreciation of our vibrant social fabric.

I eventually took the leap of opening my own shop, rapidly growing it into an import/export business, connecting Somali entrepreneurs with the world, so I could continue my studies at the National University of Somalia.When the civil war forced me to leave my homeland in the 1990s, I had to relocate my business, which showed me how true entrepreneurs are those that can adapt in the face of hardship. When in the early 2000s I was able to return home, my mission was crystal clear: help get Somalia through its time of hardship, and rebuild it, so once again communities can connect with each other and the world.

I joined Hormuud Telecom in 2002. Now as a leader of Somalia’s largest business, I’m driven by three core values: resilience, ambition, and empathy. These principles keep me grounded, and reinforce my faith in our team, mission, and the future of Somalia.

What motivated you to return to Somalia after you were displaced by the civil war? Did you always plan on returning?

I always believed in Somalia’s potential, even during its most turbulent times. When the civil war saw the destruction of financial and telecommunications infrastructure, I saw an opportunity to make a difference and I am grateful every day that I embarked on this journey.

Despite facing numerous challenges, Somalia’s economy has displayed remarkable resilience, largely driven by the dynamism of its private sector. I take immense pride in knowing that Hormuud Telecom is not just driving economic growth but is transforming the accessibility of digital services for ordinary Somalis. I remain dedicated to putting communities at centre of everything I do – for me, not returning was not an option.

What were the biggest challenges you faced when launching a telecoms company in Somalia? 

Restoring confidence in Somalia and its businesses has been a challenge, but to rise to this I’ve learnt to hold Hormuud Telecom to the highest standards and ensure that from necessity comes invention.

For example, when I returned to Somalia, the country was almost devoid of infrastructure and 98% of the Somali Shilling was counterfeit. Hormuud not only rebuilt infrastructure – from telephone masts to basic GSM services and fibre optic cables – we introduced mobile money to the country. Free at the point of use, this ensured that people had a reliable means to transact.

Now, with over 80% of people using mobile money every day, we stand on the cusp of being the world’s first cashless economy. Our mobile money platform, EVC Plus, reaching its 13-year anniversary was one of the proudest moments in my career. It proved how you can turn a challenge into an opportunity that can benefit millions.

One of Hormuud Telecoms’ biggest goals is to extend 4G connectivity throughout the country. Why is this so important for Somalia as a nation?  

The fourth industrial revolution is transforming the world at scale – not least in Africa, which is home to a fast growing, data hungry population. In Somalia, this story is no different. For us, 4G is laying the track to digital transformation, we now need the low-cost handsets to achieve it.

We have one of the youngest, digitally savvy populations in the world, and some of the cheapest internet in Africa. With 4G coverage throughout the country, digital education and healthcare possibilities in last mile communities can be unlocked; our pre-eminent industries like agriculture and fishing can become more efficient; and with EAC admission, we see a future where Somalia is a telecommunications hub for the Horn.

We’re already well on our way. Roughly 70% of Somalia’s population is covered by 4G internet. This expansion isn’t just about convenience; it’s a pivotal step towards Somalia becoming a cashless economy, that fosters inclusive and sustainable economic growth. High-speed internet access is a basic human right. We’re dedicated to bridging the digital divide, even in the hardest-to-reach areas of our country.

Hormuud Telecom played a vital role in supporting the country during the coronavirus pandemic and, indeed, has many charitable initiatives to support the country’s most vulnerable people. Are there any projects you’re most proud of?

During the COVID19 pandemic Hormuud built the first oxygen plant in the country. We also developed a telephone emergency announcement system, which has since been used as part of the El Nino climate disaster response. I’m proud of the instrumental role we play in guiding our country through tough times.

In the fallout of the pandemic, Somalia was on the brink of famine. We needed a way to reach the 1.4 million people displaced by the drought, yet INGOs did not have the capacity to reach them with physical aid. With many internally displaced people already using EVC Plus, we also developed a portal for INGOs to transfer up $1 million through mobile money to 10,000 people each time.

Running on both smart and basic phones, mothers can now purchase food and water to keep their families alive — it has completely transformed aid delivery in Somalia, whilst getting aid money moving through the economy. There’s nothing I am prouder of than that.

What does winning the CEO of the Year Award at the World Communications Award mean to you?

Winning this award is a massive honour, and I’m grateful for the recognition. It means a lot more than just a trophy, as it indicates the future is bright for Somali telecommunications, and that Hormuud is leading our sector’s return to the world stage. I hope this paves the way to exciting collaborations and opportunities around digitalisation.

 What’s next for Hormuud Telecom in 2024? 

2024 is set to be another big year for Hormuud, we’ve got several infrastructure projects and products set to come to fruition, which will further pave the way to a cashless and digitally enabled economy. Watch this space.

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