How to build a start-up in a war zone?

How to build a start up in a war zone

Starting a business in a war zone sounds crazy, but it is becoming a key tool for peace-builders. 

Still behind on my posts…read my story for Wired magazine in full below or here and see why it was retweeted by The Guardian.

Starting a business in a war zone sounds crazy, but it is becoming a key tool for peace-builders. Risk-takers such as Liban Egal, founder of Somali Wireless, and Mohamed Abdi, founder of Dhul & Guri Real Estate, are helping to rebuild Somalia after years of war. Jabril Ibrahim Abdulle, executive director at the Centre for Research and Dialogue in Somalia, explains how your startup can survive a war zone.

Know the terrain
“Whether in Somalia or Afghanistan, you can’t do business in an area you don’t know,” says Abdulle. In the absence of laws, regulations or functioning institutions, most decisions are made informally, so find out about local politics and who really has power.

Make alliances
“Make sure you have alliances on the ground,” he says. Local influencers such as police, or clans in Somalia, can offer you protection; if you give them a stake in your business, they have an extra incentive to protect it. “You can’t start up in a conflict zone without a stake from local actors.”

Plan for today
“Lack of security could destroy your business,” says Abdulle. “There are no laws to protect your interests. There is also the unpredictability, as you never know what’s going to happen. So there is no point planning for the next ten years when you might not survive tomorrow.”

Hire your own gunmen
“You can’t do business without security, so set up your own security structure by hiring your own gunmen,” says Abdulle. It is expensive — factor it into your business plan — but “the positive is that you may be able to make some money out of it yourself” by selling security.

Prepare to wait
“In a conflict zone, most businesses make money only when the security improves,” Abdulle says. Although “the risk is huge”, so can the rewards be. Hormuud Telecom Somalia Inc took such a risk in 2002 and is now one of the leading telecoms providers, employing 4,000 people.

 

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