Helping Those Who Need it Most: Sabrina Dhowre Elba’s Work With IFAD

Sabrina Dhowre Elba visit Maboikandoh, Sierra Leone © Rodney Quarcoo 2019

By Allie Murray

Somali-Canadian Sabrina Dhowre Elba grew up on teachings focused on giving back—especially to communities in Africa.

“My mom grew up in a pastoral, rural community in Somalia,” Dhowre Elba told The Independent. “She always stressed the importance of giving back to Africa in some way, and what rural land and agriculture mean to rural people.”

These teachings are what led her and her husband, British actor Idris Elba, to join the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) as Goodwill Ambassadors in 2020.

IFAD is an international financial institution and a United Nations specialized agency that invests in rural people, empowering them to increase their food security, improve the nutrition of their families, and increase their incomes. Since 1978, they have provided $23.2 billion USD in grants and low-interest loans. Canada is a founding member of IFAD and a top donor to the Fund and is strongly engaged in IFAD’s governance and the impact of its programmes.

With her mother’s teachings at the forefront of her mind, Dhowre Elba has long been an advocate for rural people in Africa, focusing strongly on rural women and girls. She has travelled with IFAD to projects in Sierra Leone, Kenya, Zambia and Egypt to highlight the importance of farmers in the global food system. In addition to IFAD, she works with various organizations, including Farm Africa, Conservation International and sits on the European board for Global Citizen.

sabrina dhowre elba
Idris Elba and Sabrina Dhowre Elba © Rodney Quarcoo

“The effects of climate change in rural areas around the world are devastating,” Dhowre Elba said during a COP27 panel. “While it is technically at the doorstep of everything—we’ve seen the drought in Europe, we’ve seen the heat waves in America, but rural people are suffering most when they’re looking every day for what to eat and how to get by. I mean, it’s literally adapt or starve.”

Similarly, amid the pandemic and tensions in Europe, rural communities in Africa have been hit the hardest—an issue that Dhowre Elba points out in her work.

“These farmers are probably the least contributors to the climate change problem but are yet being affected the most,” Dhowre Elba told BBC.

The war in Ukraine has caused growing issues with food insecurity worldwide, particularly in African countries. Still recovering from the detrimental effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and continual impacts of climate change, the food crisis in these countries continues to build. Africa relies heavily on imports from both countries, and more than a year after the invasion, wheat, sunflower, and oil prices have soared to unprecedented levels.

© Rodney Quarcoo

“There is a method, there are steps,” Dhowre Elba explained. “It isn’t just throw your hands in the air and go ‘the world is on fire’. There are solutions and it’s figuring out what those solutions are and how we can each play a part because we do know that every person can make a difference.”

In 2021, when IFAD launched their 12th Replenishment, Dhowre Elba made the call to countries to invest in farmers. The campaign proved successful, with more than 80 countries pledging to support the initiative. Following that success, IFAD launched its 13th Replenishment in February 2023, calling for increased investments in small-scale farmers across developing countries.

In September, Dhowre Elba attended the United Nations General Assembly in New York and will advocate during a Paris meeting in December hosted by President Macron to ensure heads of states and policy funders increase pledges to the campaign.

Dhowre Elba has helped to make a big difference for farmers, but her work has only just begun—and she’s leading the charge on driving positive change for rural communities.

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