At only 30 years old, Ilwad Elman is one of the leading voices in the Somali peace process, implementing projects for a better future for her country through the Elman Peace Centre. Raised as a refugee in Canada, she returned to the crisis-ridden country in the Horn of African at just 19 and has since become an international expert on conflict resolution. Her work focuses on both peace and security and economic development, and is instrumental in bringing about positive change in Somali society.
As a child, Ilwad Elman fled to Canada with her mother and sisters while her father, Elman Ali Ahmed stayed behind to continue his work with former child soldiers; tragically for which he was murdered in 1996. Nevertheless, Ilwad followed her mother back to Mogadishu in 2010. At the time, Somalia was in a humanitarian crisis, with large parts of Mogadishu controlled by the fundamentalist Al-Shabaab militia. Violence against women was commonplace, but stigmatized, tabooed and even denied by politicians in the conservative Somali society.
Sister Somalia and the Elman Peace Centre
Against this backdrop, Ilwad Elman founded Sister Somalia in 2010, the country’s first ever center to care for victims of sexual violence. At the height of the conflict, the center treated 40 victims per day. There are now nine centers of this kind in different regions of the country. Ilwad Elman’s advocacy work in the field was also instrumental in the passage of the first law on sexual offenses in the country. At the Elman Peace Centre, founded by her mother, she is responsible for shaping programs. Under her leadership, for example, the center has revived her father’s Drop the Gun, Pick Up the Pen initiative, which has already disarmed, rehabilitated and reintegrated thousands of former child soldiers into society. Because of its success, the program will be expanded to Mali, Cameroon and Nigeria.
Overall, Ilwad Elman’s work strongly focuses on the importance of the youth, who, after all, make up 70% of the Somali population. The Elman Peace Centre provides free vocational training in handicrafts to help restore future prospects for these youth. Through innovative partnerships with the private sector and the government, the trainees are guided towards sustainable employment. Education programs specifically targeting girls promote equal opportunities and the integration of women into the education system and the labor market. State-of-the-art methods such as ocean therapy are used to overcome war trauma.
An internationally sought-after expert
Ilwad Elman’s expertise is also valued beyond the African continent. For example, she became the youngest advisor to the UN Peace Building Trust in 2018 and was named one of the 100 most influential African voices worldwide in 2019 thanks to her courageous advocacy. That same year, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, which was followed by another nomination in 2020.
Ilwad Elman is a unique inspiration for young women and men on the African continent and beyond, who stand up for social justice, peace and economic development even against social opposition.