Hussein Farah, Founder and Executive Director of a nonprofit that trains African immigrant youth in Minnesota on the fundamentals of coding and IT, was selected to be a 2017 COCO Fellow, sponsored by brightpeak financial. We sat down with Hussein to learn more about the path that brought him from Somalia to Minneapolis, his nonprofit, New Vision Foundation, and how his first month at COCO is going.
Can you tell us a little about your background?
I was born in Somalia a few years before the civil war broke out. My family moved to Kenya when I was five, and we spent a couple years there in a refugee camp. I went to school in Kenya, then did my undergrad studies in Malaysia. I came to the U.S. for a masters program in Management Information Systems in Washington D.C. From there life brought me to Minnesota and work in immigrant economic development mixed with entrepreneurship.
How was the idea for New Vision born?
As a Muslim and father of two soon-to-be-teen boys, I was concerned by the issue of some of our youth getting into this extreme ideology of the West being against Islam. This is a false narrative, as I and so many native and immigrant Muslims here prove every day of our American lives. But given what can be a dire economic situation and in many cases social isolation from the mainstream, young minds are susceptible to hopelessness and disconnection. I founded New Vision Foundation to provide hope, a sense of belonging, and a pathway to professional success.
How did the COCO fellowship come about?
A COCO member, Evan Reminick, has been helping me with communications. Visiting COCO to work with him showed me all the collaborative potential here and soon I learned about the fellowship for founders. I applied and in January I heard, “Congrats, you’ve been selected! Brightpeak financial said they love your story and what you’re doing.” What a great vote of confidence!
Now I’m slightly less than a month into the fellowship. I get to come here to COCO NE and see entrepreneurs plugging along; it helps me think about the big picture. This is the perfect environment for that. You’re not isolated, you’re in the midst of big thinkers. I want the New Vision Foundation kids to think entrepreneurially, and this place captures that.
What’s on the horizon for New Vision? What’s the next big goal you’re working toward?
Our first coding class is ongoing, with 28 students at Southwest High in Minneapolis. We’re working on getting a formal partnership with Minneapolis Public Schools, which will allow us to scale across all the middle and high schools in the city. Then the next step is St. Paul Public Schools, St. Cloud, Rochester, Mankato, Willmar, and any other city in Minnesota with a sizeable African immigrant population. We will also be looking at setting up coding classes in charter schools in Minnesota because of a large presence of African immigrant kids in those schools.
My hope is that by end of this school year, we’ll be in total of five Minneapolis schools. Next year, I’d love to have 1,000 kids participating across the state. I’m leveraging my 15 years of nonprofit management and business development experience to reach that scale, because in order to have the impact I want it to have, it has to get there.
Where were you working before the fellowship?
I was in the West Bank/Cedar Riverside neighborhood, where I still have an office. Strategically, it allows me to bridge the U of M, Augsburg College, and the community I’m serving. I get to go back and forth between that office and COCO NE. With the fellowship, I get to have the best of both worlds for six months. The true spirit of COCO is that you become brilliant because you’re sitting next to someone brilliant. I love that!