This profile was part of the Faculty of Public Affairs’ 75 for the 75th series, which highlighted 75 notable alumni in FPA in honour of Carleton University’s 75th anniversary. These stories were published in 2016 and 2017.
Senior Macro-Fiscal Economist, World Bank Group
Master of Arts, Economics (‘00)
Born and raised in Somalia, Abdulqafar Abdullahi’s life path was interesting, often exciting, but not always easy.
After high school, he won a scholarship to an Indian university, where he earned both a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in business administration. He was on his way back to Somalia in 1990 when he stopped to visit his brother in Dubai and learned that the Somali government was about to fall.
“My brother was a businessman, so he invited me to open a branch of his business in Singapore,” Mr. Abdullahi recalls, “but the venture failed when Somalia collapsed.” He then moved to Thailand to teach a course at a university and apply to immigrate to Canada.
When Mr. Abdullahi arrived in Canada in 1992, the unemployment rate was high and many other educated immigrants were forced to take manual jobs. He resisted.
“Once you get in that cycle, it’s hard to get out. Instead, I enrolled in a government program that helps qualified immigrants get a job in their field of expertise,” he recalls. “I was lucky because I found people who helped me find the right placement within a company as an intern.”
The company was Pearson Canada, the largest publisher of textbooks and academic books in Canada. Mr. Abdullahi ended up working for the company for seven years, eventually becoming a regional sales and editorial representative—first in British Colombia and later in Northern and Eastern Ontario and Newfoundland.
“This gave me an opportunity to travel and discover the beauty of Canada and meet many wonderful people,” says Mr. Abdullahi. “Travelling to many institutions rekindled my love of learning and gave me the courage to go back to school, even though I would be among the oldest in my class.”
After enrolling in the Carleton Master’s degree program, he quickly moved into his field.
“I landed a job in the Department of Finance, the premier place for an economist, soon after graduation,” says Mr. Abdullahi, who also taught Economics at Algonquin College for 12 years. “I was lucky to have joined a network of Carleton alumni; in fact, the person who hired me was a Carleton graduate.”
In 2013, he took a leave of absence from the public service and joined the many ex-pats who were returning to Somalia to rebuild its institutions.
“No economist could resist the temptation to build a central bank from scratch, so I agreed to be the senior economic advisor to the governor of the Central Bank of Somalia,” he says. “But the country wasn’t ready and the situation was too dangerous, so many of us returned. Much of the Diaspora were left disappointed.”
Then a phone call came from the World Bank, offering him a job that allowed him to continue working on reconstituting Somalia’s economy.
“I’m leading the intergovernmental fiscal relations on behalf of the Bank and providing technical support on macro-fiscal issues to the federal and state governments,” he says. “We’re helping Somalia develop its own model of a federal system of government by sharing international experiences and lessons learned from other countries—including lessons I learned while working on Canada’s equalization program.”
Throughout his career Mr. Abdullahi says he was driven by his desire to help his family and his adopted and home countries. But he also attributes his success to hard work and luck, as well as the knowledge gained from his Master’s degree at Carleton.
Most of all, his drive is based on a very simple notion: that anything is possible, as long as you push yourself and have people who do the same for you along the way.
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