YEDaily: Amanda Lindhout

Alberta journalist Amanda Lindhout was in Somalia in 2008 when she was abducted and held hostage until a ransom was demanded for her life. Put into extremely oppressive conditions that included torture and beatings, she was able to do the impossible task of forgiving her captors and grant her experience a positive outcome by forming The Global Enrichment Foundation, where she makes University education a reality for Somali women in today’s touching YEDaily…

Elevator Pitch: Describe your job in a nutshell.

I am the Founder and Executive Director of the Global Enrichment Foundation, a non profit organization that is dedicated to providing education, economic opportunities and life saving emergency aid to the people of Somalia.

Why did you start your company? What was the inspiration for this career route?
In 2008 I was a bit of a gypsy. I was a world traveller who also worked as a freelance journalist. I travelled to Somalia that year to research a story on the conditions inside the world’s poorest country and the effects of over two decades of constant war. I was kidnapped on my third day in the country and held hostage for the next 460 days by teenage criminals. At a certain point I began to understand that my captors were a product of their environment, conditioned to violence and crime. I made a promise to myself that if I made it out of there alive I would dedicate my life to creating opportunities for the youth of Somalia to obtain an education as an alternative to becoming part of the war. Four months after I was released I put my vision into action and I established the Global Enrichment Foundation. (GEF) Over the last year and a half the GEF has become one of the fasting growing new non-profit’s in Canada raising nearly 2 million dollars for Somalia.

What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
There are no words to describe the joy I feel when I receive emails from the people in Somalia that we are helping. One of our projects is the Somali Women’s Scholarship Program. We sponsor the university education of dozens of brilliant Somali women. When they write they call me ‘Mama Amanda’ and share their successes with me. In Somalia less then 20% of females are educated and the girls we work with face truly unimaginable obstacles just to attend school. But our students vision and leadership is profound and inspiring. I have all of their pictures in my office!

I find my organization’s famine relief work to be enormously challenging. So many people have died from starvation in Somalia this year. Seeing firsthand a dying child is something that you never forget. Thinking of those little babies with emaciated bellies struggling to take their last breathes is what gets me up and moving every day right now. The famine in Somalia is catastrophic and we need to be talking about it.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
In five years I will be doing exactly what I am doing now- running the Global Enrichment Foundation, which I know innately is my purpose in life. I also plan to find my own Mr. Right and have a few kids somewhere along the way!

What does success look like to you?
For me success is being part of movements that initiate sustainable positive change and growth for humankind.

What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
When I established the GEF people often asked me if I would ever return to Somalia after my kidnapping. The answer was always no. Though I was deeply committed to my work for the Somali people, I have capable partners on the ground in Somalia to facilitate our programs. But this summer when a famine was declared in Somalia and I realized how little was (initially) being done to help, I knew I had a responsibility to take action. I committed to doing what I could to help save the lives of some of the 750,000 Somali people the UN predicted will die before the end of the year from hunger. I established the Convoy For Hope food aid program and in August I found myself back in the country where I had once been a hostage. Our group was one of the very first to bring food aid into the famine stricken regions of Somalia. I’ve since raised over 1.5 million dollars and our local teams will feed about 300,000 people in Somalia.

Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
What I realised through the most difficult experience of my life is that all of us, every one of us, has the power to make a lasting impression and impact in the world. If we believe in something strongly enough, we have the ability to create change. Change always starts with a single person who felt compelled to act.

Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
I put a tremendous amount into my own non-profit organization. I run the Global Enrichment Foundation without deriving any salary and have always said I will do that as long as I am able. I do this work because I believe deeply that the GEF is leading projects that have the potential transform Somalia. I am driven by the vision of a Somalia where every child can go to school, where women are treated as equals and where there is no war and no hunger.

What to you is notable?
The generosity of the average Canadian never fails to amaze and inspire me. We really do care about what is happening around the world and even during times of economic hardship we continue to dig deep into our pockets to help others. My entire organization runs on the donation dollars of individuals and companies who believe in our ability to affect positive change in Somalia. It is a great responsibility that I take very seriously.

Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or Other?
Blackberry. I couldn’t work without it. I get up to 400 messages a day and am constantly emailing on my phone!