Interview with CEO of GiveLight Foundation Ms. Dian Alyan

1. Tell us about yourself.
I’m an American Muslimah with Indonesian heritage.  I came to America to pursue a career and to grow in the Corporate World. I had a yearning to prove myself, to channel my intellectual curiosity and to travel the world.  My work at Procter & Gamble fulfilled this yearning for many years as I build my career and global brands. Then I started to feel restless, unfulfilled, drove myself to work harder until I reached a point of no return.

2. You studied engineering and then became a successful executive in Procter & Gamble.  What made you switch to a charity (Nonprofit organization)?
Growing up, I found the mission of saving lives appealing and dreamed of becoming a doctor. Due to illness, I missed the entrance exam for medical school and became an engineer instead. I joined P&G as a means to explore the world. I loved managing global brands and the world travel that came with it. But I started to feel that two fundamental things were missing: children and a sense of purpose. I left my job in search of my destiny, not knowing that I would make the switch to a charity. But God had already written my destiny before I was born.
In 2004, I lost 40 relatives and friends during the tsunami. It left me devastated and I felt compelled to do something that I never thought possible- to build beautiful homes and provide education for orphans. Two weeks after the tsunami, Givelight Foundation was born.

3. How helpful has been your experience of the corporate sector in running the affairs of your NPO?
We dreamed of building homes globally, yet had no idea how to do this in the beginning. So, we created success measures, key milestones and plans to manage  risks. We leveraged our first model of building a home in Aceh and began our second home in Pakistan two years later. To date, we have built five homes and are a permit away from starting our sixth in Morocco, Insha Allah. This isn’t a touchy-feely operation. It’s saving lives by combining business skills with the most powerful force in the universe: love.

4. Setting up an international NPO must have been a challenging job. You must have faced some tough days. Tell us about them and how did you overcome such obstacles?
Navigating through corruption and finding people on the ground to trust is challenging. We are aware of all the horror stories regarding children being abused, enslaved, or brutalized. We’ve been blessed to find trustworthy people in  countries where we operate and the amazing growth of our children is testament to this shared passion.
We partner and work only with those whose character, philosophy, and strong work ethic are proven to be in line with ours. We build where a donor gives land and pro-bono time to oversee that our homes are well run and ensure that our children are educated and loved.

5. You have been busy fund raising for your NPO in Silicon Valley. How has the response been?
We actually do major fundraising events only when we reach a major milestone vs annually as is the norm by most NGOs here in Silicon Valley. We rely more on building awareness and engagement by doing smaller and intimate gatherings where guests learn more about our cause on a personal level. We invented new ways to connect with our supporters through programs such as “World Cuisine”, “Game Night”, “Sadaqa Jars” and many more unique ideas. Our results have yielded a ton of grassroots donations and support from major corporations in the form of employee matching grants. Google, Microsoft, Paypal, LinkedIn, Salesforce, Cisco, VMWare and United Way are supporters, to name just a few.

6. How, as a leader you set long and short term objectives? And how do you achieve them?
Setting a long term vision and strategic plan is a critical step in ensuring growth and we do this at least once a year. But more importantly, as a leader, I have to be able to break them into small achievable goals. Once we set success measures, we work hard to try exceed them. In 2005, when we just started, we had only 50 orphans and now we set a goal for 1000 orphans in 10 years. We are on track to get there IA this year by adding orphans in Nepal and Syria, insha Allah.

7. Were you good at making decisions right from the beginning? If not, how did you improve your decision making skills?
When is was the beginning ?:) If you meant P&G, yes and no. I was always decisive  and analytical. The key in making decisions is to have all the facts, to have the  discipline to analyze them, reviews pros and cons than move forward. Of course, over time, I gain more experience and learned how to deal with more complex issues and how to make decisions even when not everyone on the team thinks the same  way. It’s a continued learning process, I think.

8. How difficult was it to recruit volunteers for your NPO?
We have been blessed to not have encountered any difficulties in recruiting volunteers. Volunteers come and reach out to us. The cause of helping orphans is something that everyone at some levels wants to be a part of. It is a  compelling cause that transcends age, gender, nationality and religion.
When we had our very first meeting to form GiveLight, there were 10 people in the room. Today, we have almost 40 volunteers in the Bay Area, 4-5 volunteers in major cities/areas including Chicago, New Jersey, Southern California, Dubai, and most recently Paris. And we have volunteers in all 10 of the countries we operate in.

9. What motivational tactics did you use to make your recruits understand the mission of your organization?
I don’t think of it as tactics. I believe that GiveLight stands for something so beautiful in its essence and it represents everything I love: bringing people together, building, inventing, traveling, motherhood, and the hadith of the Prophet (SAW) about taking care of orphans. When you love what you do with a passion, the results show and people inherently want to be a part of something greater than themselves.
Applying solid business skills to create an institution based on the true teachings of Islam is appealing to many Muslims. I give each volunteer ownership and freedom to choose the best way to deliver results. When people feel empowered and valued, they give their best.

10. Where do you see your organization in 5 years?
I’d like to expand to at least five more countries and reach 5,000 orphans. There are 143 million orphans in the world and GiveLight is helping only a small fraction of the population. We need to scale and have a proven model that works in any culture, Insha Allah.

11. What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a philanthropist?
Learning from others who have built bigger, enduring organizations. Pushing myself to think of more creative ways to engage our supporters and motivate our children to grow intellectually and spiritually. Continually purifying my intention to do this for the sake of Allah swt.

12. Do you think your time at Paris Fashion Institute has helped you in running your organization?
My studies in Paris were a way for me to explore life beyond the corporate world, and I experimented with a few business ideas. I soon re-discovered that success wasn’t translating into fulfillment. I don’t think it helped me in running GiveLight per se, but it did help validate my thoughts that the pursuit of dunia is no longer what deeply resonates with me. It gave me the absolute certainty that I was meant to build GiveLight.

13. Have you utilized the internet and the digital paradigm to introduce the Givelight Foundation? How has been the response of your organization’s online presence?
Since the inception, we have had a website, and received positive responses from our community, as demonstrated by the amount of funds generated through online donation. So far we focus more on building relationships with our supporters and the website is used only as a tool to facilitate online donation.  Moving forward we plan to fully leverage the power of digital media to build global awareness and hopefully tell our story in ways that resonate with the audience at a deep level.

14. How do you encourage others in your organization to communicate the “core values”?
By helping them understand that at the core of what we do there is one word. That word is love- love of our Creator; love of His creation; love of the most vulnerable segment of the human family- the orphans, and just as important, love of doing things with Ihsan.

15. What advice do you have for budding philanthropists aspiring to help humankind?
To carefully choose your battles. To define your dream with an absolute clarity. To work harder than anyone else in making that dream a reality. And most importantly, to trust that the Creator will facilitate any noble dream done for His sake.

Dian-Alyan

Dian Alyan’s Bio:
Dian Alyan is Founder and CEO of GiveLight Foundation, a non-profit organization that builds beautiful homes and futures for orphans globally. In the tsunami of 2004, Dian lost 40 of her closest relatives and friends in Aceh, Indonesia. Devastated by this loss, especially by the plight of orphaned children, she was compelled to take action. Dian founded GiveLight and built the first home for 50 orphan children in Indonesia in Nov 2005.

Dian holds an engineering degree in Agribusiness. She led a successful career for 8 years at Procter & Gamble (P&G) as marketing manager running global brands, before deciding to leave the corporate world in search of meaning and purpose.  She is a member of P&G Alumni Board of Advisors for One Global Family and has been a speaker at various events &organizations worldwide delivering on topics ranging from volunteerism, leadership, and social entrepreneurship to love for orphans and humanitarian concerns.
She has touched the hearts of her audience at many forums including ISNA convention, Stanford University, MIT, Hult Business School as well as several Fortune 500 companies that support GiveLight through employee matching grants such as Google, Cisco, Paypal, Microsoft, etc., . She has also been interviewed by several radio and television programs and her humanitarian work has been featured in P&G Alumni book “When Core Values Are Strategic”, many magazines and media articles including the Huffington Post.
In recognition of her dedication and work with Givelight Foundation, Dian received the “Humanitarian Award” from P&G, “Leadership Award” from CAIR and the “Women of the Year” Award from Senator Elaine Alquist.

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