As we ring in 2020 and the new decade, I have been searching for sources of inspiration to guide me toward the purpose I hope to achieve in the coming years. We often find inspiration when we least expect it and in the most unlikely of places. My inspiration was found when I dug deeper into a Global Impact charity partner that underwent a recent name change in 2019, Alight, formerly known as American Refugee Committee.
When you think about people who have been displaced from their homes, your first instinct is probably to focus on their basic needs, such as providing a meal, clean water and a safe place to rest their head. Those things are, of course, essential. But they do not make for a complete life. A life should be filled with joy, dignity, connection and purpose. It is Alight’s mission to go beyond basic necessities and to spark joy in the lives of displaced people.
Founded in 1979, Alight works closely with refugees, trafficked persons, and economic migrants to co design solutions that help them build full and fulfilling lives. They are working on how best to help the people they serve find connection, resolution and creativity in the challenging situations they find themselves in. Alight is dedicated to the principles that: abundance is everywhere; humans deserve human worthy service; radical accountability transforms their impact; everyone has the power to make change through democratic co-design; and, by scaling deep, they can rise to the size of the problem while staying close enough to respond to each individual.
Alight runs incredible programs to enrich people’s lives, and they don’t stop there. They care deeply about the satisfaction of the people they serve, which is why they developed a new app that lets people in refugee camps rate the work they are doing. Each day, they ask, “Were you happy with us?” Refugees in the Alight programs can give the team a smiley face if they were satisfied or a frowny face if they weren’t.
Over many years, they heard the same thing, time and time again: “refugee is not a label we want.” And you can understand why. Imagine going through a terribly dark and vulnerable time, and then being defined by that for years to come. People felt that the term ‘refugee’ diminishes and masks their humanity and potential. So, American Refugee Committee became Alight.
“We’re the same organization with the same people doing the same critical work – providing health care and clean water, shelter, protection, and economic opportunity to more than 3.5 million people in 17 countries each year. But in solidarity with the people we serve who are too often defined by a single dark moment in their lives, we’re dropping the label ‘refugee.’
Alight sees and helps every person make meaningful change in the world – from displaced and marginalized communities in Africa, Asia and the Americas to…anyone, anywhere.” – Alight
The organization finds its purpose through seven values:
Questscope | Alight | Syrian Arab Republic
These values guide Alight in their programs and approach to serving displaced populations, but they are bigger than that. These values transform the lives of the people they serve, and they have the power to transform 2020 for each of us too. The two values that really resonate with me are “Do the Doable” and “Spark Joy.”
Do the Doable
With over 70 million displaced people, one can easily feel overwhelmed looking at the ever-going refugee crisis in our world today. So in the face of the impossible, Alight choses to focus on doing the “doable.” While others might see these problems as too big to tackle, Alight dives right in with what can be done. This is precisely why Changemakers 365 was created. Changemakers 365 is a project with a commitment to do the doable every day, even in the most challenging environments in the world where Alight works. Each day of the year, Alight funds a Changemaker who can create real change for $500 or less. A project could be buying cots and mattresses for refugees who have just completed their journey to a refugee camp. It could be art supplies for kids who need a safe place to wait while their siblings receive therapy for malnutrition. Or it could be having stretchers made for a hospital so doctors don’t have to carry patients by hand.
Stories of Changemakers 365 are shared globally every day, through Alight’s blog. You’ll quickly see that change is possible, every day, everywhere.
“In the face of the impossible, we do the doable. Where there is no door, we find a window. We roll up our sleeves and do the work worth talking about. We don’t wait, we do” – Alight
My 2020 resolution is to pause each day to seek out moments of hope and progress, no matter how small. One thing I resolve to do is provide a shoulder to lean on for a friend facing an uphill medical battle, and be there for her each and every day.
Imagine being inside a refugee camp. Most of the buildings are shades of brown and gray — joyful isn’t a word that would come to mind. Color brings us happiness so why would a place where people are most in need of joy be so lacking in it? Alight set out to change that. In October 2019, a team traveled to Nyabiheke Refugee Camp in Rwanda to spark joy for the 15,000 displaced people that live there. The project created refugee-run painting groups and gave them the tools and encouragement they need to bring beauty to their communities. Painting and art projects were completed, bringing color and joy to the community.
For a border community near Tecate, Mexico, joy could be found in having a fiesta. The neighborhood rarely has a chance to celebrate — a fiesta would certainly boost everybody’s spirits and spark joy. So volunteers jumped in to host a fiesta. They setup a celebration space, made food and put up decorations. This gave the women of the community a chance to relax and enjoy the fun. And what a fiesta it was: piñatas, empanadas, cotton candy, a cake, games for kids, balloons, streamers, even an inflatable bouncy house. It is easy to imagine the joy on their faces!
“To us, joy is both a catalyst for, and an expression of, abundance. It is how we know that we are living a life of well being, of purpose and of connection. It has the power to transcend all and the power to move us in a way that touches us forever.” – Alight
My 2020 resolution is to bring joy to my family, my work, my community and beyond. Whether it’s surprising my kids with a bouquet of sunflowers or writing a note of appreciation to a coworker, I will continually look for ways to spark joy this year.
It certainly makes sense why the organization is now named Alight. They truly are a beacon of light in the lives of displaced people, creating lives alight with joy, connection and purpose. Their stories and inspirational work have transformed me for years to come. I hope you have found inspiration in their values and important work as well.