Success Story from Somalia: Fatima Jibrell’s Conservation Initiatives

Fatima Jama Jibrell was born in 1947 in Somalia. Due to the struggles of her mother, Ms. Jibrell was able to attend school. Her father was a merchant marine who settled in the USA. At the age of 16, Ms. Jibrell joined her father in the USA. A few years later she returned to Somalia where she met her husband, Abdulrahman Mohamoud Ali, a diplomat. The couple moved to Iraq for Mr. Ali’s work and Ms. Jibrell continued her education in nearby Syria. In 1981 Mr. Ali was transferred to the USA. The two engaged in activism and humanitarian work in the USA, setting up a lobby for Somalia, and Ms. Jibrell earned her Master’s in Social Work at the University of Connecticut.

In 1991, Somali was experiencing civil war. The unrest prompted Ms. Jibrell, her husband and some family friends to found the Horn of Africa Relief and Development Organization or ‘Horn Relief’ to support peace through youth leadership and environmental initiatives. In 1996, Ms. Jibrell co-founded the Resource Management Somali Network, the only cross-clan, cross-regional environmental organization in Somalia.

In 2000, Ms. Jibrell had a major success when she persuaded the regional government in northeastern Somalia to save old-growth acacia trees by creating a ban on charcoal made from them. At the time, charcoal was Somalia’s major export after livestock, but acacia trees were important to people’s livelihoods, from acacia leaves which were used as food by camels that provided people with milk and meat, to gum from the trees’ sap, and shade. To eliminate the domestic need for charcoal, Ms. Jibrell promoted the use of solar cookers. Her efforts led to her being awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2002.

In 2004, Ms. Jibrell co-founded Sun Fire Cooking. She created the world’s first solar cooking village, Bender Bayla, when she donated 950 solar cookers to its people. Ms. Jibrell also wrote and co-produced Charcoal Traffic, a short (seven minute) award-winning film from 2008 about Somalia’s charcoal crisis. In 2008, Ms. Jibrell received a National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation.

By 2010, Horn Relief was providing assistance to communities outside of Somalia, first to pastoralists in northeastern Kenya and one year later, to people resettling in South Sudan. In 2012 Horn Relief changed its name to African Development Solutions (ADESO) to reflect the organization’s work beyond the Horn of Africa. By late 2014, ADESO’s cash for work program had positively impacted over 120,000 people and their direct cash grants had benefited 580,466 (most in emergency situations).

Ms. Jibrell is the co-author of Peace and Milk: Scenes of Northern Somalia (2011). She serves on several boards including: We Are Women Activists, Radio Galkaayo (a Somali radio station with programming that focuses on human rights and the environment), and Amahada Danyarta, a micro-finance institution. In 2014, Fatima Jibrell became the first Somali to win the United Nation’s top environmental accolade, the Champion of the Earth award.

Based on the literature on international development and personal success, why has Fatima Jibrell (and her non-profit organizations) been so successful?

Some key characteristics come to mind:

Adeso’s activities reflect a belief that effective aid to Africa must come from within. The organization uses local resources and supports COMMUNITY-LED INITIATIVES, COLLABORATION and long-term development rather than short-term relief.

Ms. Jibrell emphasizes the importance of INVESTING in communities and their SUSTAINABILITY, including job development, so that they need not be dependent upon aid.

By Heidi G. Frontani

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