When Dr. Ismail Ahmed, the founder of WorldRemit left Nairobi for London in 2010, his biggest target was to become an entrepreneur.
He had lost his job at the United Nations (UN) in Nairobi where he worked as an advisor on remittance programs in East Africa.
Ahmed had blown the whistle on corruption in a remittance program in Somalia, a move that cost him his job.
He was later compensated £200,000 (Sh34.5 million in current exchange rate), for unfair treatment by the UN.
The Horn of Africa currently faces a multitude of challenges, from an absence of rural schools to recurring droughts and ongoing conflict, coupled with a highly mobile population which all contribute to low school enrolment and limited access to quality education.
Dr. Ahmed, who is originally from Somaliland, having fled in 1988 to escape conflict, went ahead to form a remittance firm and the Sahamiye Foundation, in his ambitions to give back to the community.
He committed $500 million(Sh69.3 billion) of his own wealth to the foundation.
Over 350,000 children and adults across the Horn of Africa–Somaliland, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya are now learning to read and write in Somali with a free language app, Daariz.
Launched in 2021, Daariz aims to address the region’s low literacy rates by making language skills more accessible and inclusive for learners of all ages.
Daariz was developed by the Sahamiye Foundation, a charity working to improve education in the Horn of Africa and empower all people with lifelong literacy skills.
As a result, over 70 per cent of late primary school students in the region cannot read and understand a simple story in Somali.
The region’s average school enrolment, at around 30 per cent, also continues to be one of the lowest in the world.
Developed in response to these challenges, Daariz offers virtual reading, writing, comprehension lessons and a digital library, ensuring everyone can access a consistent and high-quality education.
Daariz is designed to help in-school and out-of-school children and adults achieve functional literacy in Somali language within a short period of time.
“The app’s offline access has critically enabled more women and girls, who face significant educational barriers, to acquire literacy skills remotely. About fourty eight per cent of Daariz learners are women and girls which is significantly higher than female school enrolment in the region,” the foundation said in a statement.
Safiya, a market stall owner in the city of Hargeisa, says in the beginning, reading was difficult for her and she struggled to understand names or other texts.
“I spend most of my time at my stall in the market of Hargeysa. I downloaded the programme and began using it regularly, dedicating two hours each morning. I would spend 30 minutes reading each page. I continued this way for six months. Now, my reading has improved significantly and I have started to read and write on my own,” she says.
With speed and automaticity being essential for effective literacy development, Daariz helps people to develop their pace with reading and retention of information.
This focus has significantly reduced the time it takes to achieve functional literacy, from 450 hours to just 50.
Ahmed, the foundation founder said: “Daariz fills a critical gap in the Horn of Africa, providing accessible and engaging literacy education where it’s most needed. The 350,000 learners is not just a number, but a testament to our shared belief in the transformative power of literacy. Each person represents a story of resilience, potential, and a brighter future.”
He said the foundation’s vision is to unlock the potential of every learner, regardless of their location or situation.