EducationInspirationalSomaliaSuccess Stories

The extraordinary Success of the Abaarso school in Somaliland


Today, there are over 80 Abaarso students continuing their education abroad, the majority in the US, including at such prestigious institutions as Harvard, Yale, Brown, and MIT.

60 Minutes, The New York Times, MSNBC, BBC, and CNN are just some of the media outlets that have covered the story of School in Somaliland.
Abaarso is also the subject of a recently released book, It Takes A School, and an upcoming documentary, Somaliland, The Abaarso Story. All this attention is the result of Abaarso’s extraordinary success, despite conventional wisdom believing Abaarso’s results were impossible anywhere, never mind in the unrecognized breakaway country of Somaliland. Given Abaarso’s achievements and modest price tag, its approach is worth a deeper dive for lessons that can be applied elsewhere.

Abaarso was founded in 2009 as an American-style, private, not-for-profit school in Somaliland. In 2013, when its first students graduated, they gained the first scholarships to American universities that Somaliland or Somalia had seen in decades.

Today, there are over 80 Abaarso students continuing their education abroad, the majority in the US, including at such prestigious institutions as Harvard, Yale, Brown, and MIT. In total Abaarso students have gained $17 million in scholarships/financial aid vs. only $3 million in donations that were needed to construct the school from nothing and run it for eight years; proof that a successful project need not break the bank.

While the Somaliland people were initially skeptical of an American school in their country, along with Abaarso’s success came their strong support. Abaarso now has demand that is 30 times the school’s capacity, despite charging a base-level tuition that’s sufficient to cover students’ cost of attendance; clear proof that the Somaliland people value this education and would like to see it expanded to a much wider population. Not only does this provide an opportunity to scale much deeper within the Somali market, it also affords Abaarso significant financial sustainability as the school can always choose to self-fund through tuition.

Abaarso now has its first handful of foreign university graduates and they are all focused on returning home to develop their country. Several will be teaching for Abaarso this coming year, the beginning of a process which will ultimately see the school run by its alumni. Abaarso alumni’s return home defies typical beliefs about “brain drain,” but it is not a surprise to those who spent years working at the school; improving their country is in the Abaarso students’ DNA, reinforced during and after their time at the school.
In analyzing Abaarso’s success, it is critical to see that the school breaks virtually every preconceived notion of educational achievement, with students from poor backgrounds and large mostly uneducated families, a faculty with few trained teachers and high turnover, and a founder and head of school who is neither from the local community nor trained as an educator. As Anderson Cooper said about Abaarso, “It sounds like a recipe for disaster.” With all the wrong inputs, how did this go so right?

Read more from Bartamaha here:


All Things Somali
All Things Somali (ATS) was launched for one simple reason: to create a medium for content about Somalis in their daily lives and in their inspiring moments.

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