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Somalia : Ilwad Elman, a young activist committed to peacekeeping

Ilwad Elman is a young peace activist. At 31, this young Somali woman, who has been involved for a decade in several fronts, including the fight against sexual violence in conflicts and the disarmament of child soldiers, is rewarded for her work in favour of maintaining peace in the world. In 2020, she was shortlisted for the Nobel Peace Prize.

As the daughter of a former Somali peace activist, her age, let alone the early loss of her father, murdered when she was six, did not prevent her from getting involved and mobilising for peace in her country, in Africa and in the world. Her drive for peace earned her the opportunity to be mentored by the late former UN Secretary General, Koffi Annan, as part of his Foundation’s “Extremely together” initiative.

Ilwad Elman immigrated to Canada with her family in 1999 after her father died during the Somali civil war. She studied in Ottawa. In 2010, she returned to Somalia, while the conflict was still raging and several regions of the country were controlled by the terrorist group Al-Shabaab. 

Together with her mother, she co-founded the “Elman Centre for Peace and Human Rights”. An organisation that the family established in honour of their father, dedicated to promoting peace, cultivating leadership and empowering marginalised sections of society to become involved in processes that ensure their well-being.

A multi-faceted commitment 

Within the organisation, she holds the position of Director of Programs and Development. She is in charge of designing and supervising the centre’s programs in various fields: human rights, justice for women, protection of civilians, peace and security, social entrepreneurship.

She is involved in a number of activities, including the launch of “Sister Somalia”, a centre for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence that provides counselling, health services and housing assistance to women in need.

It is also dedicated to creating an inclusive space for women in peacebuilding and develops programs for the disarmament and rehabilitation of child soldiers and adults who have left armed groups for their socio-economic empowerment, rehabilitation and reintegration.

In 2014, she benefited from the Barack Obama White House Fellowship for Young African Leaders. In the same year, she was appointed Youth Ambassador to Somalia to end sexual violence in conflict.

In 2016, UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki-Moon appointed her Expert Advisor on Youth, Peace, Security. Among her assignments, she advised on a study to develop a strategy on UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on youth, peace and security.

She is also the chair of the Gender Based Violence and Child Protection Case Management Group in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, and is a founding member of the Advisory Committee for Research on Social Norms on Gender-Based Violence in Somalia and Southern Sudan.


Ilwad Elman has received several awards and nominations. In 2014, she was named one of the Young African Leaders Initiative by the US State Department. In 2015, she received the Gleitsman Activist Award from Harvard University and in 2016, the « Right the Wrongs » Award from Oxfam America. In 2017, she was crowned “Young African Woman of the Year 2016”. In the same year, she was a finalist with her mother for the Aurora Prize for Humanity. In 2019, she was shortlisted for the Nobel Peace Prize.