Fusion Board Feature: Osman Ahmed
You’ve had a wide variety of public roles, including working with US Senators, Congressman and local mayors, with a common thread in those roles of working with diverse communities and building cultural understanding. Could you tell us more about this work? What’s something you’re most proud of in your career?
“I got involved in politics and policy work because of education. I came to the US when I was around 15 and immigrated to Minnesota, and I started [formal] school for the first time.” As a result of the rapid education, Osman developed a drive and passion for education, becoming interested in the topic of equity and specifically how schools are funded. He became involved with organizing and campaigning, acting on his passion of providing equal opportunities to disadvantaged people. He knows the importance of local politics, saying “Local public service sometimes matters more than the national level, as it can be more impactful.”
Before joining Great MN Schools, Osman worked for the US Senate on community outreach in housing policies and education. “Educating the policymakers and educating the community about policies” is what Osman is proud of. “I always saw myself as the bridge builder between policy makers and the community.”
Osman ran for Minnesota House District 62A in 2017-18, resulting in a successful campaign even though he did not secure the position. “I had to take the personal courage and risk to run for office because I felt it was my calling. It’s time to work for others and advance policies.” In 2018, many immigration and housing issues were apparent. For example, Osman was personally seeing neighbors facing eviction for not paying rent. He knew, then, that it was time to step up and run for office. He is very proud of the support he received, and he said he would run again if the timing and issues were relevant.
You’re also the founder of an organization called Roots Connect – What inspired you to create your own nonprofit, and what do you want people to know about its mission and work?
Osman founded RootsConnect to bring connections to youth immigrants. Many of these young immigrants came from Somalia to the US to do health efficacy, policy, and education work. Osman is passionate about giving people a voice and giving them leadership opportunities. “I was helping young people connect with the resources they needed to in order to make their dreams come true and help the community.” Osman has since handed this organization over to a friend to continue its mission and vision.
Osman also founded a scholarship for Somali-speaking youth, as the English-Somali language barrier may have prevented those students from pursuing other scholarships. Osman wrote the application in Somali for those applying.
As someone with a background in politics and community leadership in general what made you want to help lead Fusion Learning Partners?
Osman was interested in the connections and ideas that could be made through being on the Board. “What attracted me to Fusion’s work was the government and public service, as well as the private and community connections. I feel that is where I can provide ideas, and that’s where my passion is and where my ideas come from…”
Fusion’s ties with the community aligned with Osman’s values, and the intersectionality of the private and public sectors was attractive to him.
In your current role as Director of Community Partnerships with Great Minnesota Schools, what do you hope to bring to the ‘Fusion’ table?
Great MN schools is a small nonprofit organization based in Minneapolis. In order to provide students with the best education, Osman explained how Great MN schools believes “we cannot just help the teachers and the school leadership, but we want the community to educate and take care of the child holistically.” Osman’s focus is Community Partnership, working with community resources and tools that can assist each child and their families, acting on the phrase ‘It take a village to raise a child.
Part of the mission statement of Fusion is to inspire innovation for the greater good… what does this mean to you, or why do you believe in this?
“Sometimes people only think about technology” when it comes to innovation. “I think innovation is more about ideas; who comes up with a solution to the problem that’s happening at that time in the community. Innovation comes more from the community… It was a very interesting time when I joined the Fusion board last year, as there has never been a time where technology and innovation was more needed.” Innovation to Osman is “who can I bounce ideas off of at Fusion and who can I partner with to figure out solutions?”
There are many critical issues our communities are facing right now, but if you had to pick one, which issue needs the most innovative thinking and why?
“Of course I’m going to be biased, as I work in education, but I think the technology gap in low-income students and students of color in education. These gaps have been there before, but I think 2020 exposed them at a higher level… technology accessibility is one of those barriers. I think it’s going to be an issue especially for the next 10 years.” Osman spoke about the need to address how to utilize the technology as well.
Osman has also observed the wealth inequities in communities, and the growing need to address this inequity. “We are not even aware of these inequities sometimes.”
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
“I love running or walking and just enjoying nature. I train for marathons without music or anything. I listen to the birds, to the trees, and to nature. If I listen to something, I do get tired. For me, it’s looking around, especially running around a beautiful park in Minnesota and looking at the water, the trees, saying hi to people. Making those connections.” Osman also plays basketball, soccer, baseball, and other sports. “I may not be the best at any of them, but I enjoy them.” Osman ran the Twin Cities marathon last year and plans on running in New York, LA, and Chicago eventually.
Osman is married and has three children: Bashi (5 years old), Bilal (2.5 years) and Maryama (18 months). “Now I do everything I do because of them.”
Do you have a favorite quote and why?
“Nelson Mandela’s quote ‘Education is the weapon you can use to change the world.’” This reminds Osman of his journey; how he did not receive formal education until he was a teenager, but after immigrating to the US and being educated, it opened his eyes. He found his passion to change the world for the better. “No one can take that [education] away from me.”