Finland/Somalia – In a whirlwind of change and new beginnings, Ifrah Ahmed, at the tender age of 12, found herself in the colorful embrace of a Finnish autumn in September 1989. This vibrant new world was a far cry from the chaos she had left behind in Somaliland, a region scarred by conflict. Finland's newness offered a canvas of excitement and adaptation for young Ifrah, who embraced the local culture and language with the openness unique to childhood, quickly weaving herself into the fabric of her small-town community while nurturing the rich threads of her Somali heritage.

“I took the Finnish culture as my own. You adapt so easily as a child. I found many friends and learned the language very quickly,” Ifrah reminisces.

Her path in this nurturing environment led her to nursing – a profession that would become the conduit for her profound impact later in life.

After honing her skills across various health-care settings in Finland, Ifrah embarked on a new chapter in the UK, balancing the roles of a nurse and a mother. The call of home led her family to relocate to Hargeisa, Somaliland, in 2013, following her husband’s job opportunity. Returning was a leap into the unknown, with no close family ties in Somaliland. Yet, Ifrah’s spirit, tempered by years abroad, was undeterred by the challenges of her return.

Ifrah’s journey is a testament to the power of diaspora expertise, particularly the influential role of women, in rebuilding Somalia. Through the Migration for Development in Africa (MIDA) FINNSOM programme, initiated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and supported by the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Ifrah joined over 200 diaspora professionals in transferring critical skills back to Somalia since 2009. Her engagement in the programme has been a cornerstone in enhancing the nation's health care and education sectors, illustrating the invaluable impact of empowering women within these vital initiatives.

In 2013, Ifrah volunteered her skills and knowledge at Hargeisa Group Hospital, where the dire need for neonatal care training spurred her to action. Her subsequent involvement in MIDA FINNSOM in 2014 was a turning point for neonatal care at the hospital.

“The infant mortality rate was alarming: half of the newborns were lost due to lack of adequate knowledge in providing essential breathing support.”

Facing down systemic obstacles with limited resources, Ifrah’s efforts led to a dramatic decrease in infant mortality rates from alarming levels through essential training in breathing support – a clear measure of success that underscored the ripple effect of knowledge transfer within the health-care community.

Ifrah’s contributions went beyond mere numbers; she infused compassion and collaboration into her work, marrying Western health-care practices with those of Somalia to foster a culture of trust and excellence. Her leadership and innovative practices, such as kangaroo mother care and emphasis on breastfeeding and hygiene, have been instrumental in bridging health-care gaps.

Reflecting on her journey, Ifrah feels a profound sense of fulfillment.

“I feel empowered giving back to my people what I learned in Finland and in the UK. One of the nurses I trained expressed heartfelt gratitude, stating that she has saved numerous lives since receiving training from me. That made me realize we have indeed achieved real progress,” Ifrah recounts.

Continuing her mission at MAS Children’s Hospital in Hargeisa under MIDA FINNSOM's latest phase since April 2023, Ifrah embodies the enduring spirit of the Somali diaspora – women leading the charge in Somalia’s sustainable development, driven by resilience, innovation, and an unwavering commitment to their homeland’s future.


Ifrah Ahmed training neonatal nurses
SDG 5 - Gender Equality
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities