Abu’s story: life is full of choices that define our place in the world

Career story

I graduated as an agronomist and agricultural economist from the University of Helsinki in 2021. In my master’s thesis, I discussed the use of blockchain technology in food production chains. I am particularly interested in economics, technology and future megatrends.

Life as a refugee in Finland has not been easy. Being placed in Finland was one of two options for our family. By my mother’s decision, we stayed in Finland instead of Sweden, and we started our journey in a country that was unfamiliar to us. Looking back, I am happy with my mother’s decision and the divine guidance of our fate. It is difficult to imagine what our life would have been like in Sweden, as I strongly feel that Finland is my home country.

When we arrived in Finland 32 years ago, we faced a very different kind of society that conveyed racism, intolerance and the effects of recession. They manifested in people’s behaviour in a way that you would be hard-pressed to even imagine encountering nowadays. Our family has also experienced Finland’s regional differences, as we have lived in Mikkeli, Jyväskylä, Järvenpää and Helsinki. We have learned to face even the darker sides of Finnish society and, on the other hand, to develop our own way of thinking. In difficult moments, my parents’ faith and trust have meant a lot, allowing me to cope in this cold and dark country. In 2000 however, we moved from Jyväskylä to Helsinki because of the racism our family was facing.

When I was young, I was not good at studying because my energy was directed at protecting myself and searching for my own identity. I wanted to be everything: imam, politician, officer, salesman, lawyer, human rights defender, and so on. A new direction in my life started to take shape when I was sitting in detention in sixth grade. It awoke a dream of entrepreneurship in me, and I started coming up with business ideas. I remember how I wanted to be an entrepreneur – a wealthy one, too. Since that moment, I have been interested in entrepreneurship and business development. I constantly think of new business ideas that could change the future. When my friends ask me questions about business, I find myself sharing a wide range of options and business ideas.

I was in ninth grade at Helsingin Uusi yhteiskoulu when I first started putting effort into my studies, and I noticed a change in myself. My success at school improved, and with this success, my motivation and self-confidence grew. It strengthened my understanding of my own abilities and potential to develop through studies. After comprehensive school, I went to upper secondary school. Unfortunately, I experienced some failures in my studies there due to my focus falling elsewhere. It made me upset and ashamed. Still, I got my certificate of graduation. Looking back, this guided my destiny by helping me find a new path and a spouse from across the world. I am glad I failed in upper secondary school because I don’t know what my life would have been like if I had succeeded in the matriculation examination and continued my studies.

From an early age, I have had countless jobs because I did not want to burden my parents financially. I have wanted to earn my living and my place in the world. I have worked as a telemarketer, cleaner, guard, coffee machine serviceman, company coordinator, bank officer, bitcoin investment advisor, blockchain technology expert, association chairman, and a managing director in two companies.

Because I have a diverse work history, I have encountered different people and learned a lot about human nature. I have met thousands of people in my career and got along with everyone. I have had colleagues with different sets of values, and some of them have also become my good friends. The world of work has taught me the importance of communication and listening and made me want to understand people’s problems and to find solutions that impact their thoughts or feelings. In my career, I have been able to eradicate people’s prejudices about immigrants and make them see things differently.

How I ended up in my current job

Life is full of choices. During my life, I have made many unfavourable choices and also good ones. The choices have led me to this point. I believe life is in God’s hands. I have joked, when helping my Finnish friends, that my destiny was to become a refugee so that I could help them. We people have our own plans and God has his plans for us. This is why we all have a purpose in the universe, even if we do not want to admit it.

My failure in upper secondary school led to my current life situation. I am glad I failed because I met my dear wife and got a new direction and vision for my life. I decided to start fixing the failures of my youth. I started studying in upper secondary school for adults. My goal was to just take the matriculation examination and focus on university entrance examinations alongside work. After my upper secondary school studies, I applied to university and vocational school. I got into a vocational school and started my studies in finance at Helmi Business College.

My studies there went very well. At the end of my studies, I did a work placement as a bank clerk at Nordea. At the end of the work placement, I could have had a permanent job on the corporate side of the bank. But I refused the offer. Acquaintances, friends and relatives wondered how I could refuse work in finance. Wasn’t it exactly what I had wanted? I told them I wanted to study more. I took a great risk when I left a prestigious job with a good manger and workplace atmosphere, but I wanted to go to university. I don’t know what my life would have been like if I had stayed at Nordea.

How I ended up studying agricultural economics

When I started as a coffee machine serviceman in 2008, the person showing me the ropes was a young man who was leaving off to study. He told me that he was going to study marketing at the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry.

In 2013, I was applying to university and read about different fields. I thought about applying to the School of Business. However, I was reminded of the story told by the man four years ago and started looking into what the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry was teaching. I discovered agricultural economics and wanted to start studying it right away. I remember everyone telling me I wouldn’t get in because it’s hard to get into university – and the University of Helsinki of all places! I got in on my second try. I believed I could reach my goal. My will and intuition have always been strong. They have been useful and have given me strength when others have doubted my chances of reaching my dreams. Never give up your dreams!

Business life

Over the past few years, I have helped immigrants, entrepreneurs and people setting up businesses to develop and refine their business ideas. I have wanted to help people pursue their dreams while believing in the cycle of good. I started my first business with my friends in autumn 2019. It was an agricultural company focusing on Iraqi exports. I was the CEO, and the company had a bright future ahead. We had demand in Iraq and there were investors involved. Our operations did not require capital, which made the company easy to run alongside studies. My assignment focused on procuring sowing seeds and exporting them to Turkey. Unfortunately, there was unrest in Iraq, which led to uncertainty. We were terrified of what was going to happen, and we noticed that exports were stopping completely. I had to step away from the company.

I then set up a temporary staffing agency. I believed I could solve some of the employment challenges in the market with the help of my company. To my misfortune, the coronavirus lockdown in Finland started in 2020. It froze my business activities, and I did not know when they could start up again. Then, after lockdown ended in Finland, companies and consumers were on their toes because they did not know where the economy was headed. In the end, the company stopped operations completely because it faced unforeseen costs and uncertainty in the market. After that, I focused on my master’s thesis and graduation, after which I worked as a corporate coordinator with the City of Helsinki for a year.

Ever since I was a young person, I have helped foreign-language speakers in finding work, planning their careers and writing their CVs, and I have advised them in solving problems at the workplace. I find that it comes naturally to me because I have encountered opportunities in countless meetings with managers and supervisors to help reconcile things between companies, the public sector and foreign-language speakers. A central idea in my activities is that I can help and support Finland’s public economy through the experience I have gained from my education and integration. “When a problem concerns you, you’ll look for a solution.” As a father, economist and integrating person, I have been affected by employment problems for the past 32 years. I feel that it is in our common interest to help everyone find employment and participate in maintaining the well-being of society. Inspired by this, I launched a business in August with the aim of improving immigrants’ employment and integration.

Successes

The greatest success in my life has been learning how to use my potential and gain more information from books. In my youth in comprehensive school, I didn’t know how to use my brain properly. There must be peace in life for us to be able to make wise decisions. Be humble and keep your feet on the ground. We are humans, so treat others as you want to be treated.

Challenges in the Finnish employment sector

I have seen many international students who, even though they are highly educated, face unemployment. I have seen these smart and talented people get discouraged and leave Finland. All their life, they had thought that everything was in their hands. They invested in their education to find employment. They graduated with top grades but had difficulty in finding their place in the world of work. Attitudes and the rigidities and mismatch problems in the labour market create restrictions and cause billions of welfare losses.

In my opinion, meta-skills should carry more value in the labour market, without undermining gained levels of education. A company’s objectives, visions and structures are formed in interpersonal operations. Highly educated people may be very skilled in their work, but their meta-skills may be very inadequate. Many companies have been destined for a decline due to poor meta-skills. Competence can be taught at the workplace or in training programmes, but attitudes and meta-skills stem from people themselves. They determine the success of an organisation and the creation of innovations.

Well-being

I spend my free time with my family, relatives and friends. I read books that develop thinking and wisdom. I try to take care of my well-being by doing sports and spending time with positive people. I try to avoid reading negative things and arguing with negative people because negativity blocks ideas and creativity. If you eat junk food, it blocks your arteries. If you read junk content, it blocks your brain cells and thinking.

Abdirahman (Abu) Mohamud Yusuf
Burgal Oy