From the front lines of conflict and in the face of extreme geopolitical complexity, Ilwad Elman is an international champion for peacebuilding.
When the war worsened in Somalia, her parents made the decision to split up; her father would remain and continue to fight for peace in Somalia and her mother would flee the conflict in pursuit of safety for their 3 daughters.
After living several years as a refugee, Ilwad and her family received asylum in Canada. Shortly after arriving to Canada with her Mother and sisters, Ilwad’s father, who remained in Mogadishu, was assassinated for his work in disarming and rehabilitating youth that were being co- opted into armed groups by the warlords.
Inspired by her father’s legacy of building peace and frustrated by the conflict in Somalia that had protracted beyond 2 decades; Ilwad decided to explore what role she plays in the transition out of conflict in her native home of Somalia.
At the height of the conflict in 2010, where the majority of Mogadishu and South Central Regions of Somalia were lost to the control of the Al-Qaeda linked terrorist group Al-Shabaab, and at the tender age of 19; Ilwad left the comforts and safety of Canada to return to Mogadishu, Somalia.
She remained in Somalia ever since, co-founding the first rape crisis centre for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, designing interventions aimed at security sector reform to create an inclusive space for women in peacebuilding, and developing programs for the disarmament and rehabilitation of child soldiers as well as adults defecting from armed groups labeled as terrorist organizations for their socio-economic empowerment, rehabilitation and reintegration.
Beyond her duties at the Elman Peace Centre; Ilwad is an advocate for the Kofi Annan Foundation initiative called Extremely Together, where under the mentorship of Mr. Kofi Annan is Preventing Violent Extremism by inspiring, engaging and empowering youth globally.
Ilwad first briefed the UN Security Council on the Protection of Civilians debate in 2015; it was the first time a civil society representative was invited to speak on this issue before the Security Council, as well as the first time the annual thematic debate focused on women’s empowerment and participation. She later co-wrote the Youth Action Agenda on Countering Violent Extremism; which was cited in the historic UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on youth, peace and security.
In August 2016, Ilwad was appointed by former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon an expert advisor on Youth, Peace & Security and was tasked to counsel a study to develop an implementation strategy on the Security Council resolution. In March 2018, Ilwad was appointed by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres an advisor to the UN Peace Building Trust Fund; she is the youngest advisor to ever serve on this board since its founding.
Ilwad additionally serves as a member on UNICEF’s Global Board for the Generation Now Initiative. She is also the chair of the Child Protection Gender-Based Violence Case Management Group in Mogadishu, a founding member of the Advisory Committee for Researching Gender-Based Violence Social Norms in Somalia and South Sudan, a member of the International Practitioners Network for Civilian Casualty Recording, as well as an expert in the Women Waging Peace Network for Inclusive Security.
She has served as the One Young World Ambassador to Somalia since 2013; completed President Barack Obama’s flagship White House Fellowship for Young African Leaders in 2014 and a 2018-2019 United Kingdom’s Foreign Office International Leaders Program Fellow.
Ilwad was honored with the 2015 Gleitsman International Activist Award from Harvard University, the 2016 Right the Wrongs Award from Oxfam America, the 2016 Young African Woman of the Year Award, was finalist of the 2016 Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, was named one of the 100 Most Influential Young Africans of 2017, was recipient of the 2017 BET Global Good Star Award, and received the 2018 Most Inspiring Young Woman Award.
Ilwad continues to innovate the advocacy efforts of Elman Peace. Through the combined effect of the grass-roots programmatic interventions she designs as well as her global advocacy, she has sparked national movements internally and garnered international attention externally to yield action towards durable solutions for human suffering and protracted crises.