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‘Doing the Doable’:
How Alight Helps 4M Displaced People a Year & How Businesses Can Become Allies

Alight CEO Jocelyn Wyatt shares how the NGO works to give the world’s displaced people a voice — and how businesses can catapult this movement of helping restore their security, dignity and opportunity.

At Sustainable Brands®, our mission is to engage organizations finding innovative ways to drive positive impacts for society and the planet through business — particularly, those working to create a flourishing future for all.

One such example of an organization leveraging business partnerships to improve the lives of millions of people worldwide is Alight (fka the American Refugee Committee). Within the international non-governmental organization (INGO) community, Alight stands out as one that is deeply embedded within communities in need across the world — helping to co-create solutions to improve conditions and open opportunities for more than 4 million displaced people annually.

Alight provides humanitarian assistance and development programs that aim to empower displaced and marginalized communities to build better futures. Some of the key areas of their work include refugee and displacement assistance, education and skill-building, economic empowerment, and emergency response and disaster-risk reduction.

I sat down with Jocelyn Wyatt, co-founder of and the newly appointed CEO of Alight, to understand how Alight works to give the world’s displaced people a voice — and how businesses can help catapult this movement of helping restore security, dignity and opportunity.

You have several years’ experience as a successful social entrepreneur working through innovation and impact design to solve social challenges. How does your global lens help you in your current role?

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Jocelyn Wyatt: Through my experience living and working abroad, I’ve had the opportunity to spend time in many cultural contexts. I believe it has given me the cultural exposure to work in a deeper, more significant way within these countries; solve the varied and diverse social problems displaced people face; [and] helped me lead a global organization with staff in 20 countries. This global lens I’ve acquired has helped me connect with my colleagues worldwide and empower them to make important decisions while assisting displaced and marginalized people within their regions and countries.

How do you focus on the challenges at hand without getting distracted by the bigger picture?

JW: To be honest, at Alight, we are proud of the impact we have at scale — since we have been able to help four million people each year. But we recognize that we cannot access all the 100 million refugees and displaced people in the world — because of several reasons and limitations — so, we see the larger scale; but we believe in doing the doable and helping those we can.

Many Ukrainians needed extra assistance in the aftermath of the Kakhovka dam collapse | Image credit: Alight

Also, even if we can help one person find a home to live in, that is still a win in my eyes. For example, recently in El Paso, we met a Venezuelan refugee who had just entered the country and needed to get to his shelter — but he had no way to get there, didn’t know where it was, didn’t have the money to pay for a cab, and didn’t want to spend the night on the street. But I was able to offer him a ride through a ride-sharing app to a nearby shelter with beds available for single men.

Thanks to broader consumer awareness, businesses are putting more focus on their social impact. How has this impacted the work you are doing?

JW: Alight has gained the opportunity to grow further using the support of others. We traditionally receive funding from USAID or agencies such as UNHCR, but also from private individuals who care about refugees and displaced people and make personal contributions to Alight’s mission. Over the last few years, we have noticed companies' significant interest in supporting refugees and the homelessness crisis. Lately, we have partnered more with private funders and institutions — including local, grassroots businesses and large corporations.

One of our very successful business partnerships has been with Airbnb. Through its platform, we were able to find temporary housing for up to 30 days for Ukrainian refugees in Poland and the rest of Europe. This is a great example where the company recognized that its tech platform is an asset that can support Ukrainians in their time of need, through their internal funding and donations from their hosts. The partnership has worked well; and through it, we were also able to hire Ukrainians to meet newly displaced, incoming Ukrainian refugees at the Ukraine-Poland border and understand their needs. The majority of them required safe shelter and guidance, which this partnership was able to provide.

That’s an inspiring example. How can other companies also support refugees, displaced persons and communities affected by conflict, natural disasters and displacement? Can you share some examples of Alight’s other partnerships?

JW: There are many ways that businesses can help — such as brand partnerships; events for awareness building or fundraising; and, of course, financial contribution.

One of our other successful partnerships is with Citizenry, a home-goods company. Every year for Black Friday, they choose a charitable organization and donate their profits from that day towards the selected cause. For their Black Friday sales in 2022, they decided to contribute to our cause and donate all profits to Alight — our focus is on homes; and hoping to create homes for people dignifiedly aligns with Citizenry’s goals, so it was a harmonious partnership.

[In] another partnership, a toilet paper company called Who Gives a Crap has donated several cases of toilet paper for Afghan families coming into the US and different migrants in New Mexico and Texas. They use product donation, which helps displaced people by providing them with essential goods.

Alight partners helped fund building of a library in Uganda's Nakivale Refugee Settlement, which provides education and opportunity for over 3,000 individuals each month | Image credit: Alight

We also recently partnered with Thomson Reuters for their employee giving program. Their employees can contribute to Alight through tax-deductible donations and in-person volunteering. Teams of their employees work on a very engaging product that has helped Afghan families by working half a day or a full day.

These examples show that you don’t need to be a large business with a large CSR budget to contribute. Alight operates in more than 20 countries worldwide and is involved with local organizations and startups to provide access to housing, reliable healthcare and education services. What role can local businesses play in aiding your mission in these countries?

JW: At Alight, local leaders and local staff lead all our local and regional stations — so we truly believe that local problems are solved by local, grassroots organizations, as well as startups. For example, we have worked with e-money companies in Somaliland to do cash transfers. We also work with construction companies who construct homes and shelters, while local producers assist with sourcing food to eliminate food insecurity in marginalized and displaced communities. So, wherever we can, we source local products and materials from local businesses because we are focused on co-creation and finding solutions through partnerships and collaboration.

Speaking of co-creation, Alight works on fostering a more co-creative approach to humanitarian aid and uses human-centered design to address long-term needs for communities that include and respect all members. Can you share an example of how Alight has co-created solutions with displaced communities? How can companies partner with organizations like Alight to help co-create broader or more scalable solutions?

JW: Yes, of course! In Somaliland, there is an incredible number of displaced people — especially women and children — that have been coming into the cities from rural areas. Most of them have been nomadic herders who have lost their livestock and face massive food insecurity due to famines and ongoing drought. So, we have partnered with the mayor of the capital city, Hargeisa; and local government, civil rights groups and the private sector to reimagine a residential community for locally displaced people. For this, we have two very interesting corporate partnerships — the first is with a Minnesota architecture firm, RSP Architects, who have been spending time in Somaliland to design several versions of homes and then bring families to let us know what works and what they don’t like — taking feedback and understanding what would be best for this new community. On the financing side, we have a partnership with a local African company called Dahabshiil that can help finance homes and provide mortgages for displaced people.

Another inspiring example, which leads to my next question. My family originally belongs to Pakistan; knowing the many cultural nuances of the country, I am curious to learn how your organization ensures that they respect local, cultural sensitivities.

JW: As I mentioned earlier, we believe in local leadership and decision-making. At Alight, we call our country leaders ‘executive directors’ instead of ‘country directors’ because we truly see them as enterprise leaders. For example, in Pakistan, our executive director is Tariq Cheema — who is from Pakistan.

I believe the way we work is different compared to how other INGOs work. There is no top-down hierarchy and no one making decisions for communities while being in another country. We empower our local leaders to make the right decisions for the communities they focus on. In Pakistan, the Alight team focuses on children and education — because they recognize those as critical needs within their community. In contrast, in Africa, the teams focus on more climate-displaced people — such as in Somaliland.

Alight partner Questscope connects young people who’ve fallen through the cracks of formal educational systems to education opportunities and vocational training | Image credit: Alight

What do local governments and businesses with global operations need to know to enable more refugees and displaced people to take charge of their future and build a better life for themselves?

JW: This is a great question! Whenever we speak with refugees and ask them what they want and need, they say ‘we want a job’ or ‘the opportunity to make money and bring an income to my family’ and become independent and resourceful. However, most host countries do not allow refugees to work and impose major restrictions on them. That is one of the major barriers for refugees to take charge of their future and build a better life for themselves. Another limiting factor is the lack of freedom of movement for refugees. These people are asked to stay in refugee camps, limiting their access to opportunities. I have talked to several Syrian refugees in refugee camps across the world; and their youth are always keen on going to college and university to complete their education. Still, they are kept from leaving these camps. I believe governments should give refugees and displaced people the freedom of movement to come out of their camps to access facilities and opportunities, whether for education or employment.

To help solve this problem, Alight has a unique program called the Uniting for Ukraine Jobs Sponsorship Pathway. Through this, we are identifying employers with unfilled jobs, finding Ukrainians that are willing to come to the US for those job opportunities and then partnering with resettlement plans to give those Ukrainians a smooth transition when moving to the US. This works well with the recent legislation from the Biden administration to ensure safe, orderly and humane migration across all its borders. The majority of businesses do not know about this. Still, the Uniting for Ukraine Pathway program helps alleviate the job crisis while also providing relief to Ukrainians and their immediate family members. Successful families also get connected with additional resources upon arrival to make the most of this opportunity.

I hope more businesses gain inspiration from the contributions made by other companies and look to partner with Alight to expand their efforts to meaningfully aid displaced people around the world.

JW: Thank you, Fatima, for this thoughtful interview. We hope that more businesses will be able to contribute to the cause and partner with us in reducing the large number of displaced people and refugees across all our countries of operation.