Cambridge, MA—The Center for Public Leadership (CPL) at Harvard Kennedy School (CPL) has named humanitarians Fartuun Adan and Ilwad Elman as this year’s recipients of the Gleitsman International Activist Award for their leadership of the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center (EPHRC) and Sister Somalia – organizations focused on tackling gender-based violence and the rehabilitation of child soldiers in their home country of Somalia. The award and $125,000 prize, given biennially to a leader or team who has “improved the quality of life abroad and inspired others to do the same,” will be presented to at a ceremony in Cambridge on November 19. The ceremony will feature commentary by Eve Ensler, playwright, V-Day founder, and EPHRC/Sister Somalia advocate.

Founded in 1980 by Fartuun and her husband Elman Ali Ahmed, the EPHRC was the   first crisis center of its kind in Somalia. For almost two decades, from 1980-96, Fartuun and her husband partnered in peacemaking efforts, providing medical care and educational and vocational opportunities to orphans and child soldiers serving warlords. They advocated education as an alternative to violence and they coined the still-popular Somali peace mantra: “Put down the gun and pick up the pen.” Elman Ahmed was assassinated in 1996 and Fartuun fled Somalia with her three daughters.

In 2007, leaving her children and the safety of her new home in Canada behind, Fartuun returned to Mogadishu at the height of violence there to continue the work of rehabilitating child soldiers. In 2010 Ilwad, who had no memory of her father or home country, visited her mother. Moved by the lives being transformed at the center Ilwad couldn’t bring herself to leave. She became her mother’s full partner in directing and expanding the work of EPHRC.

With bare-bones funding Fartuun and Ilwad co-founded Sister Somalia, the country’s first rape crisis center, in 2011. Headquartered in Mogadishu, Sister Somalia now operates crisis centers and safe houses across Somalia, and has served more than 6,000 women and girls with educational, psychosocial, vocational, emergency relocation, and medical referral services to-date.

Said Adan and Elman, “We are humbled and feel most honored to receive this Award. We did not make the journey here alone; we are blessed with a brave and supportive team in Somalia. We are grateful for this honor—especially knowing that we work every day with survivors and members of our team who are equally deserving of such prestigious recognition.”

Ilwad and Fartuun have tirelessly promoted human rights, peaceful co-existence, and created programs for gender based violence (GBV) survivors while continuing their work to rehabilitate child soldiers. Under their shared leadership of EPHRC, Fartuun and Ilwad influence policy change, empower other Somali civil society organizations to act, and develop partnerships with national and international state actors including Mogadishu’s Child Protection Working Group with UNICEF. Fartuun and Ilwad’s work has garnered recognition from the Peace and Human Rights network, the Obama administration (2013 “Women in Courage” award) and speaking invitations and consulting requests by the United Nations and foreign governments.  

 “Fartuun and Ilwad are fearless and relentless advocates for victims of gender-based violence in Somalia, courageously leveraging limited resources to impact legislation and policy decisions on the international stage alongside human rights defenders including UNICEF and Human Rights Watch,” said Patricia Bellinger, executive director of CPL . “Alan Gleitsman believed in individuals whose vision and courage inspired others to confront injustice; Fartuun and Ilwad are the perfect embodiment of this charge. I firmly believe they are key players in shaping Somalia’s future.”

Building on the core mission of empowerment EPHRC and Sister Somalia are ensuring that the way in which it is delivered is dignified, perpetuating long-term success and systemic change.

 “As women come to the centers and heal, they are transformed from survivors to leaders. As women and girls return to their camps and home villages, they themselves become go-to counselors and advocates, driving conversations about women’s rights,” writes Eve Ensler. “It is fitting that Fartuun and Ilwad are a team, as it is women’s solidarity that will bring about the kind of real, lasting social change our world needs.”

Gleitsman Award Event Details
Thursday, November 19, 2015
6 – 7:30 p.m.
Taubman Building, Fifth Floor
15 Eliot Street, Cambridge
Harvard Kennedy School


About Sister Somalia
Sister Somalia is dedicated to providing catalytic support to survivors of sexual violence in Somalia, while changing the global conversation on women’s security in Somalia, and pressing for long term institutional changes to provide more comprehensive protections from gender based violence as Somalia emerges from chaos.
Sister Somalia was launched in the summer of 2011 as a collaboration between Lisa Shannon, founder of A Thousand Sisters, Katy Grant, a seasoned aid worker and founder of Prism Partnerships, and Somali human rights activist Fartuun Abdisalaan Adan, Co-founder and CEO of Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre. In February 2012, Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre assumed full management of all aspects of Sister Somalia.
Sister Somalia supports sexual violence survivors in Mogadishu and the surrounding areas, operating the country’s first rape crisis center. Its services include:

  • Phone counseling sessions.
  • Group psycho-social counseling sessions.
  • Transportation to the center in Mogadishu for a lunch or tea counseling session.
  • Access to medical care.
  • Emergency grants for resettlement (this includes transportation for the family plus food for a week).
  • Vocational, literacy and numeracy training.
  • Business starter kits, including three month’s rent for commercial space, and ongoing mentoring.
  • Outreach by social workers at militia-controlled refugee camps, where the majority of women served live.

About Elman Human Rights Center
The Elman Peace and Human Rights Center is a non-governmental organization based in MogadishuSomalia. It was established by Fartuun Adan in honor of her late husband Elman Ali Ahmed, a local entrepreneur and peace activist. Adan serves as the NGO’s Executive Director, while their daughter Ilwad works alongside her. Ilwad also helps run Sister Somalia, a subsidiary of the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center. The country’s first program for assistance of victims of gender-based violence, it provides counseling, health and housing support for women in need. Elman’s work has helped raise awareness locally on the issue, and encouraged changes in government policy. Ilwad has also carried out educational workshops through the center for vulnerable members of society, and designed and implemented projects promoting alternative livelihood opportunities for both young and old.

Alan Gleitsman
Alan Gleitsman was a television executive who founded the Gleitsman Foundation in 1989 following the sale of his extensive feature film and television library. A graduate of Cornell University and a U.S. Air Force veteran, Gleitsman’s longtime commitment to social justice was aligned with his philosophy that even a single person with heart and determination can bring about meaningful solutions to challenging societal problems. Gleitsman was fond of quoting Robert F. Kennedy: “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.” In 2007, Gleitsman’s Estate endowed the Gleitsman Program in Leadership for Social Change at Harvard Kennedy School, and supports both the awarding of the Gleitsman Citizen and International Activist Awards, and the Gleitsman Leadership Fellowship for Social Change.

Center for Public Leadership
Since its founding in 2000 with a generous gift from Leslie and Abigail Wexner, the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School has established itself as one of the world’s premier institutions for leadership training and a hub for scholarship in public service leadership and behavioral decision-making. Utilizing a multi-pronged approach to leadership training that bridges rigorous academic preparation and the world of practice, CPL equips this generation’s brightest stars to exercise leadership in a world responding to a rapidly array of economic, political, and social challenges.

Harvard Kennedy School
Harvard Kennedy School maintains an abiding commitment to advancing the public interest by training skilled, exceptional leaders and solving public problems through world-class scholarship and active engagement with practitioners and decision makers. The school offers the depth, reflection, insight, and excellence of ideas and teaching that can shape future leaders, affect public policies, and make an impact on people and their daily lives.


Lael Harris
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