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Somali Role Models Give Back (ISWADA)

A mentoring scheme conference for young Somalis from the ages of 16-25 took place in Camden Town Hall on 27 May 2016.

The mentoring scheme event was delivered and hosted by Iswada. The aim of the mentoring programme is to empower young people in their academic and career choices by providing them with a mentor in the form of a Somali professional. The mentor’s role is to encourage and guide young Somalis in the plethora of opportunities that are available to them as well as providing them assistance in writing a good CV and cover letter.


Presentation slide

The speakers of the event consisted of seven mentors and five mentees, and all spoke about their personal experiences of the programme. The mentors also spoke about their individual career journeys which was helpful for young people who needed to hear about the different professional paths they could take. Their stories of encouragement were meaningful as they were a source of inspiration to the young people in a community that isn’t well recognised in society. This is particularly important considering the progression Somalis have made in education in the last decade and the further development that is needed. For example, a study by the London Borough of Lambeth, called ‘Raising the Achievement of Somali Pupils’, revealed that only 34% of Somalis attained more than five GCSE’s graded A*- C in 2006, the lowest level when compared to the performances of other ethnic groups. This figure improved to 60% by 2014.

The event also recognised new challenge facing young Somalis, that is, the need for guidance post-GCSE level, so that Somalis can reach a support network in order to overcome barriers associated with further/higher education and career-building.

Mentors who spoke at the event
Mentors who spoke at the event.

Muna Elmi a neuroscientist and research associate from UCL who completed her PhD in Sweden spoke about her experience of when she had undertaken her PhD and her current job role as a research associate. She advised the audience on what to look for if they wanted to pursue a career in academia:

“If you’re interested in doing research, I would say get directly in contact with the research group that you’re interested in, don’t just wait for the announcement for a position… ask to do summer projects, and while doing those projects talk to PhD students and if you do the summer project at the end of it you might decide whether academia is your thing…”

Abdirahim Saeed spoke to the audience about his journey on how he became a journalist for the BBC. He spoke about how his path to journalism differed to the more traditional route that many journalists take. He emphasised that taking a post-graduate qualification in journalism was not the only way. He had advised the young audience to keep their options open by building a portfolio and stated

“Don’t think of yourself as an inspiring journalist…be one. In the sense that yes you are going to be published with the big brand, publish it on Tumblr, Snapchat – what works for you…get something out of the way that has your name.”

He ended his speech by highlighting the importance of networking and the potential it has to build professional contacts and aid job prospects.

Hibaq Abyan, Technical Coordinator, shared with the audience one of her experiences in how she overcame challenges at the workplace. She said

“I remember on my first week I was asked if I was on the site to view as a tenant, so I said no I am an architect. The guy was so shocked because I was not only a woman in a male dominated industry, but I was also a black Somali. I then made my mission to work harder in gaining the respect of my colleagues to show yes I am a Somali but an ambitious one. And months later I ended up managing the same person. This shows you the obstacle that we face can be used to better ourselves and the people around us.”

A young man sitting (on the left) with the mentors who spoke at the conference
A young man sitting (on the left) with the mentors who spoke at the conference

The mentors who sat at the panel shared in common the desire to inspire and provide young people with guidance. Although they all come from a variety of different professional backgrounds, their presence at the conference has given young Somalis a positive outlook of how the Somali community is progressing.

Iswada is a voluntary scheme designed for young Somalis to gain mentoring from Somali professionals who work in different sectors in the professional industry. The mentoring scheme runs for six months with the aim of motivating young Somalis in their career goals and maximising their potential.

If you are interested in joining the scheme as a mentor or as a mentee, please click here to view the Iswada website. Alternatively, you can email if you would like to enquire more about the programme