“Being a part of change is a very addictive thing”

“Being a part of change is a very addictive thing”

On September 7-8, 2023, the Network of Engaged International Donors (NEID Global) and The Philanthropic Initiative’s (TPI) Center for Global Philanthropy hosted the 2023 Innovations in International Philanthropy Symposium in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Among the keynote speakers were Armine Afeyan, Executive Director of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, Ilwad Elman, 2020 Aurora Prize Laureate, and Jamila Afghani, 2022 Aurora Prize Laureate.

The Symposium brought together donors, foundations, companies, and investors who are actively engaged in international philanthropy and seeking to propel forward the capacity and impact of their globally-minded work. At the event, the Aurora representatives delivered the opening keynote titled ‘The Courage to Take Extraordinary Action.’ 

After the video dedicated to Aurora and its international impact was screened, Armine Afeyan, Executive Director of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, took the floor to talk about her personal connection to the Initiative’s mission. “For me personally, as a descendent of an Armenian Genocide survivor, I feel deep gratitude to the folks who stepped in and enabled my existence. And as I look out into the room, I don’t think it’s presumptuous to say there are many people out there who have survivor stories in their lineages and with whom that sentiment may resonate,” said Armine Afeyan. “That sense of gratitude for being here and for those who made that possible in the very heart of the Aurora Prize.”

Jamila Afghani, 2022 Aurora Prize Laureate, President of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) Afghanistan and founder of the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organization (NECDO), shared her thoughts on being an educator, a mother, and a six-time refugee, quoting her humanitarian activity as a source of solace and strength.

Jamila has dedicated over 25 years of her life to giving the women of Afghanistan access to education.  Forced to flee Afghanistan, she continues to help others at distance. NEDCO is still supporting women of Afghanistan and vulnerable families, shedding light on lack of access to education, domestic violence, and other contemporary issues faced by women today, while providing financial aid to the human rights defenders, journalists, and advocates. “If I’m not working, I’m nothing. If I’m working, I feel that I am a human being; I feel alive. Whatever I suffered in my own personal life, I really want my people, my daughters, the children of Afghanistan to have a better life. And that is why I have always struggled to give this better life to them,” explained Jamila Afghani.

Another Aurora speaker, Ilwad Elman, received the 2020 Aurora Prize jointly with her mother, Fartuun Adan, for their work through the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center named after Fartuun’s late husband, Somalian peace activist Elman Ali Ahmed, who had been killed in 1996. 

To explain the roots of her decision to go back to Somalia and engage with her mother’s life-saving work, Canadian-raised Ilwad Elman painted a portrait of a young girl who had been listening to stories about kindness and commitment changing lives from her early childhood. “[My mother] is a fierce custodian of my father’s legacy. She was always going to go back to Somalia to continue the work that my father incepted. Right away, I learned from her what conviction means,” said Ilwad. “My sisters and I knew that she was going to go back. And through her, we saw a different side of Somalia.” Eventually, she joined Fartuun and is now working as the Chief Operating Officer of the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center.

The panelists were also asked to share their perspective of the things that help them keep going, despite all the challenges. “One thing I want to focus on is the power of womanhood, the power of sisterhood, the power of love and care, the power of feeling responsible, feeling that you’re not useless,” said Jamila Afghani. Meanwhile, Ilwad Elman pointed out that the drive to create a better reality is something universal. “That’s a very addictive thing, being a part of change, even if it’s very small and incremental, seeing ideas resulting in impact in the community. I think we’re all looking for purpose, for meaning, for being part of something that is bigger than ourselves,” noted Ms. Elman.

In conclusion, Armine Afeyan admitted that the task of wrapping up such a meaningful discussion was an impossible one and suggested that the audience, including online viewers, continues the conversation in their own time. “If you’ve heard anything that resonates or if there’s a thread you would like to pull, I encourage you to get in touch with Ilwad, with Jamila, with myself and the Aurora organization,” said Mrs. Afeyan. 

You can watch the full video of the panel below.