Waris Dirie was born in 1965 into a nomad family living in the Somali desert near the border to Ethiopia. At the tender age of five, she underwent the inhuman procedure of female genital mutilation. This horrible tradition is still practiced worldwide today, both by Muslims and Christians. According to estimations of the United Nations, more than 8.000 girls become victims of this cruel crime every day. At the age of 13 Waris fled from a forced marriage to a man, who could have been her grandfather. After an adventurous escape, she arrived in London and worked there as a housemaid and at McDonald’s.


She was discovered by the British top photographer Terence Donovan as a model at the age of 22 and became an international celebrity. She moved from London to New York and became famous as one of the first ‘Supermodels’ in the US. She was the first African woman with an exclusive contract for a worldwide campaign with Revlon, worldwide the biggest cosmetic company. She worked for all famous fashion, cosmetic and jewellery brands from Chanel to Cartier, from L’Oréal to Gucci and was seen on all major fashion magazine covers from ‘Vogue’ to ‘Marie Claire’. She received a part as a James Bond girl in the movie ‘The Living Daylight’, side by side with Timothy Dalton. The BBC produced a documentary on her unique career called ‘Waris Dirie – A Nomad In New York’. In an interview for the magazine ‘Marie Claire’ Waris Dirie decided to tell the world about the cruel tradition of FGM and her own fate. An enormous wave of sympathy and protest followed worldwide. Waris Dirie was invited to a US-Talk show to tell her life-story and initiated then her personal campaign against FGM.


In 1996, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, appointed her as an UN Special Ambassador for the elimination of Female Genital Mutilation. She travelled the world for the UN, participated in conferences, met with presidents, Nobel Prize-winners and movie stars and collected enormous funds for the UN.


In 1997, Waris Dirie’s biography ‘Desert Flower’ was published by Harper Collins in New York. The book became an international bestseller. The book has been published in 65 licensed editions, became number 1 of the best-seller lists in many countries and more than 12 Mio. copies were sold worldwide. The movie ‘Desert Flower’ celebrated its world premiere at the International Film Festival in Venice on September 5th, 2009. Like the subsequent premiere in Berlin, Vienna, Zurich, Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam the movie was celebrated by the audience with standing ovations.


In 2002 Waris Dirie founded her own foundation, named Desert Flower Foundation, based in Vienna/Austria. The foundation launches worldwide public awareness campaigns against Female Genital Mutilation.