Somali Non-Profits Team Up For a Stronger Voice

Minneapolis is home to hundreds of non-profit organizations that provide services tailored to the Somali community. Few months ago, the most influential Somali nonprofits joined forces to create a lobbying voice in the MN state legislature. This coalition of Somali non profits are hoping to overcome the obstacles that face the Somali-American community in Minnesota.

The coalition currently consists of 8 organizations and it’s unclear if they will be expanding. The current members are African Immigrants Community Services; the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota; Isuroon; Ka Joog; New American Academy; Shanta Link; Somali Action Alliance; and Somali American Parent Association.

The Somali community in Minnesota has faced recent scrutiny over the recruitment of young Somalis by international terrorist organization.. The Somali community faces countless challenges that include but are not limited to high unemployment rates, weak family structures, lack of education and the slow integration into their new communities. These challenges can only be overcome by community programs tailored to the under priveledged community. In April 2015, a study released by University of Southern California, funded by the Homeland security department found that most Somali nonprofits in Minnesota who secured government grants have not been effective. It is important to note that the same study revealed that a handful of organizations are actually doing an outstanding job. This new coalition gears up to tackle all those challenges by collaborating instead of competing. The coalition will also help the nonprofits better track their effectiveness and create transparency.

“Why not combine our separate efforts and do a better collaborative effort?” said Mohamud Noor, head of the Confederation of Somali Community, a coalition member.

The Mineapolis foundation who is considered to be the push behind the cause, is a nonprofit that administers more than 1,200 charitable funds in Minneapolis that enable individuals, families, and businesses to support causes they are passionate about. Minneapolis foundation is considered one of the oldest community organization in the world.Last year the Minneapolis foundation held a meeting of local philanthropists on how to make better investments in the Somali community. That is where Catherine Gray, Minneapolis foundation leader, met Hamze Warfa, a local philanthropist and a Bush Fellow. Catherine convinced Warfa to launch the coalition and contributed $44,000 to get it started.

The coalition is also hoping to bridge the gaps between Somali-led nonprofits and larger “conventional” organizations where Warfa acts as a cultural liason on projects such as Isuroon’s food shelf which is an organization that empoweres Somali women. Warfa is helping the coalition members grow the capability of their organizations, increase their alliance, advocate for public policies that better serve Somali Minnesotans, and help the community navigate an American system that sometimes pose barriers to success.

It has been rumoured that legislatures are reluctant to work with Somali non profits because there are so many of them with no vetting process in place. This coalition looks forward to overcoming the stigma around Somali non profits by actually doing some good work in the community. The group has already started showing some progress. This past summer, 70 high school students in the confederation’s Newcomer Academy program scored summer jobs through another member’s network of employers. In the same summer, the parents of the highschool students in the program got an orientation on the U.S. education system from other coalition members like African Immigrants Community Services and Somali American Parent Association. That kind of team work is what the coalition wants to promote.

“When we duplicate services, it doesn’t help anyone,” Noor said. “It just creates unhealthy competition.”

Due to the recent surplus by the Minnesota government, Governor Dayton has pledged $35 million to bridge the racial disparities in Minnesota. $2 million of that went to investments in the Somali community which the experts say is insufficient. Warfa and the group are asking for  $11 million which will go through the Minneapolis foundation to manage.

Somali leaders have long complained about the distrust the Somali non-profits within the Somali community. So one of the missions of the group includes is to gain the trut of both the public as well as legislatures in the near future.

The coalition hired Shep Harris of the law firm Fredrikson & Byron, a lobbyist who helped Ka Joog score $200,000 from the governor’s office in 2015 for programs to engage the youth. As news about the coalition is heard among Somalis, the community is excited to hear that several groups are collaborating to bring change to the community.

Yusuf Gedi, a local entrepenuer in Minneapolis said, “We owe it to the community to give back, we need people and organizations we can trust”. Gedi went on to criticize state officials as well who always seem to fail to solve the problems of the community at the roots he explained.We spoke to Yusuf at a barbershop at Karmel Mall, a Somali mall located in south Minneapolis, few of the other bystanders seem to agree all that Yusuf had to say. But we also spoke to people like Halima Dahir, a school teacher who had a very optimistic hopes for the future.

Dahir said, “ Somali Minnesotans are very hardworking people and they came a long way. Just few days ago, we nominated the first Somali legislature and she happens to be a female. This community will do great things in Minnesota”. Halima told us that she is proud to be a Somali Minnesotan and hopeshas made Minnesota her first home for her and her kids. We spoke to several people like Halima who thought the future is very bright for Somali Americans in Minnesota but as we all know, it takes a lot of hardwork to keep it bright for the next generation, so the new coalition might be a good step towards a better community.

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