Before Sabrina Hersi Issa was born, her parents fled political persecution in Somalia to build a new life in the United States. Her father, who had been a diplomat, worked as a taxi driver and security guard, while her mother worked as a housekeeper and looked after their eight children. Hersi Issa, the second youngest, was the first to be born in the United States.
“My father and mother kept our family’s connection to Somalia alive through telling stories,” she says. “For a long time, their narrative and memories were my only bridge to my other home. But I was lucky to learn through them how storytelling could build a bridge across cultures and divides.”
Hersi Issa’s family background, she says, helps explain why her work uses storytelling to create social change. Now 30, she’s a fellow of the Roosevelt Institute, where she writes about the intersection of technology, human rights, and humanitarian disasters. She’s a cofounder of End Famine, which seeks sustainable solutions to food security, and in 2012, she was named by Forbes magazine as one of 30 leaders under 30 who are shaping law and policy.
She has also started her own business, Be Bold Media. The company provides creative services—including branding, digital strategy, and online community building—for nonprofits.
That process, she says, often gives rise to the development of apps and software that the company then licenses to organizations in health care, human rights, or corporate social responsibility.
“I started Be Bold to help nonprofits use digital platforms to tell their stories,” Hersi Issa says. “Some of the nonprofits I worked with at the time were doing incredible work that was not captured online.”
Hersi Issa had a brush with burnout a few years ago and, as a result, has learned to make self-care an important part of her work. “I try to regularly honor my ambition and my health,” she says. “I know it is possible to do both with a joyful heart and a full life.”