MC/MPA Mason Fellow 2015 shares her dreams for her native Somalia.

By Tatiana M.R. Johnson
February 4, 2016


Fadumo Dayib, MC/MPA Mason Fellow 2015, calls herself a “dreamer,” but history has shown important political or social change often begins with a vision.

Visions of change in Somalia have often crumbled amid harsh circumstances, but Dayib sees the 2016 Somalian presidential election as an opportunity to turn her dreams into reality and to inspire others to share the responsibility of making their nation and our world a better place.

We sat down to talk with Dayib during the last few days of the fall semester at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), a time of calm energy on a usually bustling campus. As Dayib spoke, her presence lit up the room as she discussed her visions for Somalia and the change she wants to make in leading the nation as its first elected female president.

“Even if I am a dreamer, I also have the skills and ability to put them into concrete action. That is why I’m here today,” she said about being at HKS. “It’s the same ambition, motivation, belief and hope that I am taking to Somalia.”

Her motivation comes from a personal place. The outbreak of civil war forced Dayib, her mother and thousands of fellow Somalis to flee their homeland in the early 1990’s and become political refugees in Finland. In the midst of acclimating to Finland as Somali immigrants, Dayib and her mother began to create new memories and plans for a life outside of the severe violence of Somalia. Dayib recounts her mother’s strength and how she witnessed her mother learn how to read and write at 58-years-old, before her death in 1995. She also credits her mother as the very first investor in her dreams.

During frequent Saturday drives together, Dayib’s mother would ask her where she wanted to be in the future. On one particular trip Dayib said she wanted to work for the United Nations. Dayib’s mother answered “you’ll be there one day,” prompting Dayib to respond, “No, I can’t. I don’t even know how to read and write.” Her mother insisted and she was right.

After learning how to read and write at age 14, Dayib began to put her public service instinct into practice. She worked as a nurse practitioner and a translator for Somali immigrants to help them integrate into their new community. She went on to join the United Nations, working in Fiji, Kenya, Liberia and ultimately Somalia, where she came to the realization that going into government service would be her means to challenge centuries-old traditions in her country and instigate change. 

Dayib’s vision for a more peaceful and prosperous Somalia is fueling her presidential run. But her year at Harvard Kennedy School, gaining insight from professors and classmates, will be part of its foundation. 

As one of only two Somali students to attend HKS, in recent years, Dayib said she has had “profound” educational experiences as a fellow in the Mid-Career Master in Public Administration Edward S. Mason Program, a training ground for leaders from developing, newly industrialized and transitional economy countries.  Steve Jarding, a lecturer in public policy, and his approach to leadership resonated with Dayib, giving her room to see herself more as an activist than politician. After taking his Running for Office and Managing Campaigns course, Dayib asked Jarding to serve as a senior advisor to what she describes as her “pre-pre-campaign” as she prepares for her presidential bid.  He agreed.

“No matter the outcome, she will make an impact for future generations to follow,” Jarding said of Dayib, who he said is “fearless” and “courageous.” “Anytime you get people willing to stand up and challenge the status quo, it’s going to have the potential to make a lasting impact.”

With the first free presidential election held in 2012, Somalia’s electoral process is still fairly new. With continuing violence between insurgent groups and the displacement of more than 1.1 million people, the country’s political future is uncertain. Dayib acknowledged the risk that comes with running for the country’s presidential seat, and how pursuing her dream could put her life in danger. But her survival as - a woman who, like many others, endured displacement, genital mutilation and poverty -gives her the confidence to know she can survive anything.

“The day that a Somali girl is born, she’s already instigating change because she’s born into a society where she is virtually invisible, where she’s not respected or acknowledged or cherished or valued,” Dayib said. “Just the act of coming into such an environment and making it out of that environment alive is a way of instigating social change.”

Dayib is resolute that her presidential run will help change the direction of her country, and help improve the lives of women and girls throughout Somalia.  “I am doing it for my daughters, for my mother, and for all the other women to say that we don’t need to negotiate for our existence,” she said. “We are here.”