Meet The Economist On A Mission to Make Sierra Leone Financially Inclusive

Meet The Economist On A Mission to Make Sierra Leone Financially Inclusive
  • Mahmoud Idriss, Founder, Smart Systems

When Mahmoud graduated from the University of Sierra Leone with a first-class degree in Economics in 1998, he left a mark. It was the first time in 25 years anyone had left Fourah Bay College’s Economics Department with such flying colours. From FBC, the Ministry of Finance recruited Mahmoud as a research assistant within their research and planning unit.

While at the Ministry of Finance, the nation’s brightest economists and financial experts entrusted Mahmoud with economic analysis and forecasting. He was given responsibilities beyond his research assistant rank in less than six months. At the request of the Director of Budget Bureau, Mahmoud also supported various ministries with budget planning, profiles, and reports to prepare for their budget hearings.

Before leaving the Ministry of Finance, Mahmoud won a privately funded scholarship to study Economics and Finance at the University of Ohio, Toledo. The week after he got confirmation that he had received his Masters, he was on a flight back to Freetown to get back to work with his colleagues at the Ministry.

After serving at Finance for two years, Mahmoud joined the National Social Security Insurance Trust(NASSIT). The role of head of investment called for a minimum of five years of professional experience. When Mahmoud applied, he had only been out of University for three years. Although he knew he didn’t meet that one requirement for the role, Mahmoud still submitted his application. He made it through the round of interviews, scored the highest, and kickstarted a six-year tenure advising the board of directors at NASSIT as head of investment.

As the largest financial institution in Sierra Leone, NASSIT’s range of investments were (and still are) at a megascale. Mahmoud mastered economic models, assets, fixed income securities like bonds, equities, and business valuations.

He attended high level local and international meetings with multinationals, investors, and big businesses. He was a key member of the team that prepared and presented NASSIT’s presidential briefing to President Ernest Bai Koroma during the 2007 transition.

By the time Mahmoud left NASSIT to join the private sector in 2009, he had become one of Sierra Leone’s foremost leaders on project planning, evaluation and investment. His has served in various capacities with the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency, Afrobarometer National Survey, and West Africa Agricultural Productivity Project (WAAPP).

He continues to support technical project delivery, research, and planning for a range of partners and organizations in the telecommunications sector like the National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM), the Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC), and ZOODLABS. He is also presently the Chairman of the Digital Financial Services Technical Working Group established by the Bank of Sierra Leone to drive its financial inclusion strategy.

Mahmoud founded Smart Systems in 2021, after serving as Managing Director of the nation’s leading Internet Service Provider for three years. At AFCOM, he witnessed the connectivity gaps and the opportunities presented by digitalization. With Smart Systems, Mahmoud combines his economic and financial expertise with tech insights to lead a team of innovators to create fintech solutions. They will give more Sierra Leoneans financial history, make payments instant, and introduce MSMEs to seamless electronic billing. Mahmoud believes that digital financial services will reduce barriers to providing financial services to underserved and unserved citizens. If the ecosystem for local fintechs gets the support it needs, Mahmoud will do what he always does––create models that solve big problems to serve Sierra Leoneans at scale.

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