Aisha Ali can’t take anything for granted—not the political situation in South Sudan, not the economy, not even the electricity. But she says uncertainty is part of the thrill of being a businesswoman. “I like challenges, and I believe I’m a problem solver,” Ali says.
Ali is one of sixty young African leaders who have come to the United States this month for a professional development program sponsored by the U.S. State Department.
At twenty-eight, Ali has already started one business in Juba and is launching another. She founded the first, called Samahi Research, along with two other women.
“I think people find it interesting that three women are doing this,” she says. “I don’t think it has helped us or made it harder for us. But it’s just an interesting fact that we always try to use and tell people we are three ladies who are doing this.”
Ali started Samahi Research in 2008 after she graduated from college in Uganda. It collects and analyzes data. The research helps NGOs and private companies deliver top-quality services to South Sudanese.
Ali says one of the most satisfying parts of the work is creating employment for others.
“We are sending people away with money in their pockets,” she says.
Ali’s second business also tries to make people’s lives easier. She calls it M-Cash. It allows people to keep track of their money and make payments on their mobile phones.
She says the service—which some other countries have already adopted— makes particular sense for people in rural areas across South Sudan.
“If someone is in Wau and he is sending his kids to school in Kenya or somewhere, and he is not able to send money to them, he probably has to queue up somewhere in Wau, or travel, just to be able to pay the school fees. And now in places as near as in Uganda, people are paying money using their mobile phones.”
Ali says South Sudan is full of opportunities for innovation. The country just needs people to push for them—people with new ideas, like her.