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For example, specific legislation was enacted in 2013 to address Somali women’s health issues. The Department of Human Services chose to rely on uneven federal funding that dried up during Washington’s budget battles, and the effort faltered. Another example is the funding in the jobs and energy bill allocated to help license foreign-trained medical professionals. The funds were disbursed without adequate communication with the community.
In addition to less-than-stellar management of defined resources, such bureaucratic inefficiencies retard economic progress through regulation. There are skilled doctors and other medical professionals in the Somali community working in minimum-wage jobs because they lack “proper licensing.”
Another obstacle to economic progress is the absence of Somali professionals in senior leadership positions in state government, and in large nonprofits as well as in for-profit corporations. Some point out that the statewide lack of a Somali presence in leadership roles is comparable to that of other minority groups. But the Somali situation is exacerbated by sometimes unfair and damaging coverage in the press.
Negative perceptions also hinder the success of Somali businesses. The Somali community in Minnesota has demonstrated high entrepreneurial spirit. Small Somali shops and restaurants are plentiful in Minneapolis and St. Paul. But almost all of them cater to their own subcommunity, limiting their commercial viability. Negative press contributes by driving away other potential customers and investors.
A welcome positive development is angel investors risking capital resources on Somali restaurants. Somali food is no more foreign than what is on the menus at successful chains like Leeann Chinn and Chipotle. Capital investment in Somali restaurants will help with standardization, research and development, and marketing and branding efforts, and will help integrate Somali cuisine into the mainstream diet.
The Somali community in Minnesota is not asking for preferential treatment or sympathy for its predicament. It is asking to be understood, and for a fair shot at success.
Jamal Abdulahi is a state director-at-large of the DFL Party and chairs the Somali American Caucus. He can be reached at Abdu0037@umn.edu or on Twitter: @fuguni.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.