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The Director’s Story

My role as director: A journey of transformation

From my earliest days, I embraced the vital task of cleaning and sorting resins. Formal education was a luxury I couldn’t access, but my commitment to this age-old tradition was unwavering, much like my mother and grandmothers before me. The role of a sorter had been passed down through generations of women in my family. Little did I know that this path would lead me to becoming the lead director of our esteemed company, Beeyo Maal.

When I was first offered the position, I accepted it with a mix of trepidation and excitement. The idea of being a director was both daunting and surreal. In that pivotal moment, as I sat among the watchful eyes of the room, I felt overwhelmed. The task at hand was simple—sign the books as the chairwoman of our newly formed cooperative. However, the reality was quite different. I struggled to even hold the pen, let alone write my signature. In the end, I resorted to using my thumb to mark the page. It reminded me of casting my vote in the last government election, a process I had always found uncomfortable.

In the solitude of my home later that day, I made a solemn promise to myself: I would learn to write. As soon as I returned, I asked my daughter for help in writing my name. This was the beginning of a journey that would not only change my life but the course of our cooperative as well.

During the nomination and voting process, I encountered scepticism from some of the men. They raised valid concerns, wondering how a woman could lead us. Their doubts were understandable, for they had never experienced a situation where a woman held the highest position in their organization. However, what they failed to grasp was the inherent skill and expertise that the women sorters brought to the table. Our precision in sorting and cleaning resins was unmatched. This craft was our birthright, and we took ownership of it with great pride.

Sorting resin is not a task that can be taken lightly. It requires organization, teamwork, patience, trust, and tolerance. As time passed, I came to understand that these very qualities are essential in effective leadership. I soon realized that I possessed the qualities needed to guide our cooperative to success.

So, I took the role of director with determination and a strong belief in our collective capabilities. I, along with the dedicated women of Beeyo Maal, knew that we had the skills, the unity, and the vision to thrive. Our journey as a Somali frankincense cooperative has been a remarkable one, and it’s my honour to be a part of it. Together, we continue to break barriers and redefine traditional roles, proving that true leadership transcends gender and is rooted in the shared strength and commitment of a community working as one.

The Rewards of Leadership 

Taking on the leadership role at Beeyo Maal has not only earned me respect but has also been a profound lesson in respect itself. One of the most significant changes in my life has been my newfound ability to listen. Before stepping into this role, I was not a great listener. As a sorter, my days were consumed by executing tasks and occasionally singing or sharing stories with my fellow sorters to make the long hours of work more bearable. However, the early stages of our cooperative marked a pivotal test.

We faced a monumental challenge: pleasing and supporting more than 800 members with limited financial resources. There existed a deeply ingrained belief that women couldn’t lead their way to success. To disprove this belief, we recognized the need to work ten times harder than others. It was a path laden with obstacles, but we were determined to prove that women could excel in leadership roles.

In this journey, I’ve come to understand that listening is a vital aspect of effective leadership. It’s about hearing the voices and concerns of the members, learning from their experiences, and taking their suggestions to heart. It’s a form of respect that goes both ways. I’ve learned to value the input and contributions of our cooperative’s members. Their experiences, ideas, and wisdom have been instrumental in guiding our decisions and shaping our path forward.

As we navigate the challenges of our cooperative’s early stages, I’ve realized that leadership is not just about giving orders; it’s about creating a supportive and inclusive environment where every member has a voice. This environment, in turn, empowers us to overcome adversity and prove that women can lead effectively with unwavering dedication and resilience.

Navigating Challenges

Each day at Beeyo Maal presents us with new opportunities and new challenges. As we’ve grown, we’ve encountered various hurdles, but every one of them has been a chance to learn, adapt, and advance. From handling orders to setting prices, managing the complexities of mobile money transactions, record-keeping, navigating logistics, to even the intricacies of banking, each aspect of our cooperative operation has been a learning experience.

One of our significant challenges arose when we discovered that goods from Somalia could not enter the US. This unexpected hurdle required us to find an alternative and navigate the complexities of international trade.

Another formidable challenge we faced was the process of opening a bank account. We journeyed to Hargeisa, the capital city of Somaliland, to open an account with Premier Bank. This took several days of effort and an abundance of paperwork to sign. The hurdles seemed endless, but we persevered and got it done.

Yet, perhaps the most significant challenge we face is changing long-held attitudes and overcoming the legacy of the past. The belief that women cannot lead and succeed still lingers in many minds, but we are determined to break this stereotype and prove our worth.

The first week of October marked a pivotal moment in our journey. We received our first two international orders from LIVEBOTANICAL in the US and Olfactory NZ Ltd in New Zealand. The elation we felt was profound, as we embraced the triumph of our resilience. We immediately reinvested the proceeds into our cooperative.

Our experiences also underscore the power of the internet in connecting us with the world. The cooperative provided us with the means to purchase mobile phones and access the internet, enabling us to establish a presence on social media and communicate via platforms like WhatsApp. Through these tools, our stories have travelled far and wide, demonstrating that technology can be our ally in breaking down barriers and sharing our journey with a global audience.

The Transition 

Today, our situation is significantly different from what it used to be. We have taken control and no longer rely on external orders. Importantly, we have put an end to the exploitation we once endured.

As time has passed, we’ve acquired the necessary skills and experience to manage a successful business. We make progress every day, growing more confident and hopeful about the future of our organisation. Our primary objective is not to get rich; but to secure our livelihoods, ensuring that we can provide for our families, earn a fair income, and cover our children’s education expenses.

Preserving our trees and forest has become a top priority. Large corporations came into our land, depleting our ancient forest, causing deep poverty, and exploiting our resources. We are still dealing with the consequences of their actions and the trauma they left behind. Healing from these wounds will take time, but our determination remains unwavering. We are committed to preventing their return.

Our ancient forest holds immense historical significance. It is the oldest and largest wild frankincense forest globally and has been visited by countless civilizations throughout history. While they took resins from our forest, it remained mostly intact. In less than two decades, these corporations took more than half of our forest, leaving behind infected trees damaged by pests. The diverse wildlife that once thrived in our forest has also vanished along with our ancient trees.

Our forest is not just our heritage; it’s a global treasure and a World Heritage Site. We call upon compassionate people worldwide to join us in our efforts to safeguard this invaluable ecosystem from further destruction. Our plea is for the preservation of our ancient forest, a crucial part of our community, and for the well-being of future generations. Together, we can ensure that this natural wonder continues to thrive in our world.

Our Vision for Collaboration

We are eager to establish partnerships with conscientious investors and buyers who share our commitment to ethical and sustainable practices. We have a particular interest in collaborating with small businesses, especially those led by women. Our understanding is that the world has always valued and needed our resources for thousands of years. We are dedicated to preserving these resources and ensuring they endure for future generations, much as our ancestors did.

We believe it’s time for the world to take notice and come together. We must collectively work to stop exploitative corporations. To these organisations our message is clear: stay away from us. We are in the process of healing from the wounds you inflicted upon us, and our forest has begun to recover since your departure. We are committed to nurturing our environment and our community, allowing them to thrive without interference.

The Path Forward 

As we look ahead, the road to the future of our cooperative is long and promising.

We are currently taking steps to become a FairWild Pathway Operator, formalising our dedication to fair trade and sustainability. As part of this, we are also looking at certifying Beeyo Maal products as organic. 

Our goal is to make our cooperative highly efficient, effective, and supportive for all members within our harvesting community. To achieve this, we are actively working on a plan to provide training and impart new skills to our members.

Our plan is to build a small distillery to produce frankincense oil. This initiative holds several significant benefits for us:

  • distillery project will provide opportunities for our community to learn new skills in distillation, expanding our knowledge and capabilities.
  • It will also open up job opportunities, ensuring that more community members can actively participate in our cooperative.
  • By producing frankincense oil locally, we aim to keep more of the value chain within our community, promoting economic sustainability.
  • This local production will reduce the need for long-distance transportation of heavy resins.
  • By reducing transportation and keeping the process local, we will minimize environmental damage and contribute to a reduction in overall carbon emissions.
  • Ultimately, this endeavour will allow us to offer our valued customers affordable frankincense oil, a win-win for both our cooperative and those who support us.

Our journey towards building a self-sustaining cooperative is well underway, and this distillery project is just one example of our commitment to growth, sustainability, and progress. We look forward to the future with enthusiasm and dedication as we work toward realizing our vision for the Beeyo Maal cooperative.

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