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Advice for Aspiring Leaders

Ilwad Elman: Young people are incredible actors which need to be engaged

Ilwad Elman

October 22 2016

“I want to call young people, everywhere around the world, to action.”

26 year-old Ilwad Elman, one of ten advocates for the Kofi Annan Foundation’s initiative called Extremely Together, spoke to us at the 2016 One Young World Summit in Ottawa.

From the front lines of conflict and often in the face of extreme insecurity; Ilwad continues to innovate advocacy efforts as the Director of Programs & Development for the Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre in Somalia. 


Sherah Beckley for Thomson Reuters Sustainability: At this real crucial time, what do you want to tell the world? What is your message to the world?

Ilwad Elman: I have many messages that I would send, being here at One Young World at this pivotal time where we have the opportunity to launch Extremely Together, which is an initiative that I’m a part of, and I feel honoured to be.

The message that I would send is that young people are not only capable of making decisions, but they have a proven track record, and they should be viewed as allies.

And I think this is an opportune time for governments, for international bodies like the UN, to not look at young people as just implementing partners or beneficiaries of the various policies and legislations that have been put into place, but as incredible actors that need to be engaged.

One of the themes that I work on very strongly is countering violent extremism, and in that space, young people are viewed as either perpetrators or potential perpetrators. It may be one of the most pressing concerns of our generation, and we are not in the discussion. Extremely Together challenges that, where 10 of us are able to impact our communities at the grassroots, but have the network and the influence of Kofi Annan mentoring us and opening doors so that we are not just on the receiving end but actually able to influence policy and inform programming.

And I think that is my message to the world. Don’t just look at young people as beneficiaries. Utilize them, to be adequate partners.

So I started by telling you that I was born in Somalia. I grew up in Canada. I chose to go back to Somalia; I have the option every single day to pack up and leave, and come back. But the people that I aim to serve, don’t.

I don’t stay in Somalia out of guilt, but I stay because I am inspired by the strength and resilience of an overwhelming majority of the population thriving despite the conflict and the chaos that they live amidst.

70% of the population in Somalia is under the age of 30. The country has been in conflict for more than 25 years. That’s an entire demographic of children and youth that have only known war. Yet, they survive. I am motivated by that resilience and that strength. And I think there are a lot of lessons we can learn from people who have grown up in such environments, and I want to call young people, everywhere around the world, to action.

I hate when young people say, “I’m not into politics.” How are you not into politics?! I think it’s cool to be conscious. I think we can all add value to our respective communities, and it’s time to act.


Read the full interview with Ilwad Elman here.

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