The secret of Nasir Ali

Change your mindset and you can be successful too

4 March 2018

Nasir Ali (1983) grew up in war-torn Somaliland and became a successful refugee. In this article, we share his journey and give tips on how you can be successful too.

Through a friend of a friend I get Nasir’s phone number. We have to do the interview by phone, because he is currently in Somaliland. When I call him, his accent surprises me. He sounds like a typical Dutch person from the Amsterdam area. Wich makes sense, because he left Somaliland when he was only ten years old. His family moved to The Netherlands and he picked up the Dutch language and accent easily.

After a short period in a rural area, his family moves to the Amsterdam area and he is presented with amazing opportunities. Young Nasir is smart and works hard. He gets a bachelors degree in Commercial Economy and a masters degree in Marketing. He had no problem finding a job and quickly works on high positions in the Dutch corporate world. Right now he is back in Somaliland. The war has ended. A lot of Dutch Somalis are returning to use the knowledge they have gathered in Europe to give Somaliland a boost.

Nasir Ali on the secret of successful refugees

Q: It is our goal to learn the secret of successful refugees. What is your secret?

Nasir laughs.”The secret of successful refugees is the same secret as those of other successful people. It all has to do with your mindset. One person sees obstacles, the other opportunities. I used to be very negative, I felt like life was hard. But around 2006 I managed to change my mindset and became happier and more successful.”

Q: How did you change your mindset?

“Growing up during the war was normal for me. I’d never experienced anything else. But looking back, I realized how difficult it was. Even though I lived in peace and had the opportunity to go to a good school, I still felt negative. In 2004 movie director¬†Theo van Gogh was murdered by a terrorist who identified as Muslim. People held me accountable because I was Muslim too. The atmosphere towards Muslims became very negative in The Netherlands. Discrimination and islamophobia felt like personal attacks. It felt like the entire world was against me.

I got stuck in my negative world view and after finshing my bachelor, I decided to travel the world. I went to Europe, the Middle East and Africa and it made me realize that The Netherlands is an amazing country and that my life really wasn’t that bad.”

Q: What did you do when you came back to The Netherlands?

“I started my master and became hungry for knowledge. I started reading a lot. Looking for positive role models. I asked successful people a lot of questions. How did they do it? What could I do to achieve the same?

After finishing my master I started working. That is when my mindset really changed. I started reading even more and asked myself who I really was and what my personal goals were. I tried to discover what I had to do to achieve my personal goals. I met a lot of intelligent people at work, and they inspired me. I looked for positive energy and I found it.”


Success starts with self-insight. What is important to you? What gives you energy? What are you passionate about? What are your goals? Success means setting your own goals and doing everything you can to achieve them.

Nasir Ali

Entrepreneur & Business coach

Q: What is your advice for young refugees who are struggeling?

“Being young is difficult, no matter what. But when you are a refugee you have different obstacles from local kids. Every young person is looking for themself. But refugees have to ask themselves if there is a place for them in their new country and what they can do to create it.

I coached a lot of young refugees. They miss positive role models in their life. And if they do find a rolemodel, they believe that person is an exception, that they just got lucky. Instead of thinking in opportunities, they only see problems. They think success is unattainable for them. But there are uncountable successful refugees. They went through the same struggle and became happy and successful. Look for them. Learn from them. Believe you can be successful and you are halfway there.”

Q: How important are role models?

“People tend to overlook opportunities because of fear. They are afraid they can’t do it. But if you really want it, you too can achieve your goals. In some communities people pull each other down. “If I can’t have it, neither can you.” If there are more positive role models, it will be easier for people to realize they do have a chance to become successful refugees.”

Q: How do you cope with racism and discrimination?

“When I was younger I took it personally. Now I enjoy the confusion of Dutch people, because my name and appearance don’t match. They don’t expect an African guy with an Arabic name to be the manager. I like to play around with that, make fun of people and their stereo types. If you feel good about yourself, if you are confident, racism doesn’t bother you on a personal level.

But I do think it is true that I have to be ten times better than the average Dutch guy to achieve the same thing. As a refugee you need to work much harder to be taken seriously.”

Q: Why did you go back to Somaliland?

“I always want to keep on moving. Until I’m 35, I don’t want to stay at a company for longer than five years. When you’re young, you should gather as much different experiences as you can. I want to keep challenging myself.

After my last job, I wanted to do something completely different. I’ve always had small businesses in Somaliland. Instead of sending money to relatives, i’d rather help them start their own business so they can be self sufficient.

The Netherlands is an amazing country, it is possibly the best place in the world to grow up. The social security, school system, health care, it is all amazing. The standard of living is very high. But since the economic crisis, doing business has become difficult. I am fortunate. I’m highly educated and have a lot of work experience. I can use all my knowledge and experience to make Somaliland an even better place.”

Q: How can refugees become more successful?

“Learn to think in solutions, not in problems. For example; if you are stuck in a traffic jam, you can be angry that you are wasting your time. Or you can use that time to make a couple of calls you haven’t done yet.

If you want to be successful, you need to be willing to put in hard work. Fail. Make mistakes. Fall down and get back up again. Everybody has to deal with setbacks. The question is, how do you deal with challenges? Do you keep going or do you give up? If this doesn’t come natural to you, you can teach yourself. Just keep going.

If you have a positive mindset, everything will be easier. I wish for everyone to have this mindset. All successful people are different, but a lot of them do the same simple things: get out of bed on time, read books, exercise and eat healthy.

You need to remember that the solution of your problems is inside of you. Not in anybody else. I cannot control the world around me, but I am my own tower of strength. I know my own qualities, I have control over my own actions.

Where there is a will, there is a way. If you really want something, you will find a solution. If you don’t really want to be successful, you will find an excuse instead.”


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