Ismail Ahmed
Home African CEOs How African Refugee Ismail Ahmed Built a Leading Tech Company
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How African Refugee Ismail Ahmed Built a Leading Tech Company

Ismail Ahmed is the founder and chairman of WorldRemit, a leader in the international digital money remittance market.

Ismail started the business in 2010. It has since received more than $375 million in the capital, supported by Accel, TCV, and LeapFrog, and has been recognised as the UK’s fastest-growing technology firm.

Ismail, who had previously worked for the United Nations as a compliance expert, started the business based on stringent compliance guidelines after realising that moving the money transfer process to a digital method was the only practical option to significantly lower risks.

He is of Somaliland origin and has previously worked for the United Nations (UN) in Dubai and Nairobi. He holds an MBA from London Business School and a PhD from the University of London.

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Early life 

Source: Bloomberg.com

Ahmed was born and raised in Hargeisa, Republic Somaliland, a nation considered internationally to be part of Somalia.

He received a World Bank scholarship to study economics at the University of London in the UK before the Somali Civil War broke out. He was smuggled out of Somaliland during the start of the war and into the UK as a refugee with the aid of his family.

Ahmed worked several part-time jobs while attending school, including Strawberry Harvesting in Kent. Most of his income was usually sent home to his family members in Somaliland.

He valued the act of sending money home because it was the custom of other family members who lived and worked in foreign countries to support those in need back in Somaliland.

However, when the time and money requirements for transactions to send money home became unaffordable, Ahmed started to wonder whether there was a better alternative to send money.

Uncovering corruption  

Before joining the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Ahmed worked for a World Bank agricultural development project in Hargeisa, Somaliland. There, he assisted with the management of a money transfer initiative. He reported corruption he had found in the firm’s Somalia operation to his manager.

“My boss said if I went and submitted the dossier, I would never be able to work in remittances again, and I took that threat very seriously. I lost my job to uncover the fraud.” 

Later, it was determined that the UNDP had mistreated him, and he was compensated with $232,408. This fund helped Ismail restart his life and fuel his entrepreneurship ambition.

The conception of WorldRemit

Source: Worldremit

Ismail Ahmed finally started formulating the concept for a mobile money transfer service that would compete with regular money transfer services and banks’ higher prices for comparable services.

In order to obtain a formal business education before starting the company, Ahmed enrolled in an executive MBA programme at London Business School. He then started WorldRemit in 2010.

Many people worldwide who don’t have bank accounts but might at least have access to a mobile phone now have a chance due to the shift of transactions to mobile devices.

Ismail Ahmed’s philanthropic ventures

In 2021,  Ismail Ahmed started the Sahamiye Foundation to address Somaliland’s development issues and foster entrepreneurship.

Ismail Ahmed donated $500 million of his own money and investments to programmes for Somaliland’s development. By 2023, Sahamiye Foundation hopes to double Somaliland’s literacy rate to 90%.

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