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In 1973, the first Templeton Prize was given to Mother Teresa. In 2023, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of this award. Over the next 52 weeks, we will highlight each of our laureates and reflect on their impact on the world. From humanitarians and saints to philosophers, theoretical physicists, and one king, the Templeton Prize has honored extraordinary people. Together, they have pushed the boundaries of our understanding of the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it, making this (we humbly think) the world’s most interesting prize.

Edna Adan Ismail, born September 15, 1937, in Hargeisa, the capital of then British Somaliland, is a nurse-midwife, hospital founder, and health-care advocate who has worked courageously to change cultural, religious, and medical norms surrounding women’s health in East Africa.

Raised in a society where opportunities for women were limited, Edna defied custom by vigorously pursuing education. Watching her father perform surgeries and bring healing to the community inspired her lifelong interest in healthcare. An exemplary student, Edna became the first Somali girl to receive a scholarship to study in the U.K., where she  trained in nursing and midwifery at the Borough Polytechnic. 

After a career with the World Health Organization, Edna returned to her homeland and sold her assets to found the Edna Adan University Hospital in Hargeisa, Somaliland. Since 2002, the hospital has provided high-quality obstetric and gynecological care for women and their newborns, including safe and accessible childbirth experiences. 

Edna Adan Ismail’s impact extends beyond the walls of the hospital. As a fierce advocate for women’s rights, she has been instrumental in raising awareness about female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage. Her tireless advocacy aims not only to eradicate harmful practices but also to empower women and girls to lead healthier lives with purpose.

Drawing from the resources of her Muslim faith, she received the Templeton Prize in recognition of her extraordinary efforts to harness the power of the sciences to affirm the dignity of women and help them to flourish physically and spiritually.

“We are delighted to honor Edna Adan Ismail, a woman who has used the teachings of her faith, the influence of her family, and her education in science to improve the health and opportunities of some of the world’s most vulnerable women and girls.” – Heather Templeton Dill

“For me religion is not only about rituals, but also about how you live your religion. It is about kindness and charity, living a clean and honest life. I live my religion through my acts, through the way I work with poor people, students, patients, and colleagues.” – Edna Adan Ismail