Born in Takengon, Central Aceh, Indonesia, Dian Alyan has lived a richly rewarding global life as a brilliant student, world traveler and highly successful executive at Procter & Gamble. After tragically losing 40 relatives in the deadly Asia tsunami of 2004, she founded the GiveLight Foundation to create a home to and provide long term education for the orphans from this disaster. Since that time, GiveLight has expanded to many other countries, such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Haiti, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, etc., supporting and enhancing the lives of orphans. The recipient of several awards including Woman of the Year, the Leadership Award and the Humanitarian Award, Dian is founder/CEO of GiveLight. She speaks French, Arabic, Indonesian/Malay and, of course, English.
O'Brien: Your resume is fascinating: you studied engineering at the prestigious Institut Pertanian Bogor, had a successful career as an executive at Procter & Gamble, studied art history at the Paris Fashion Institute, and now run a non-profit organization (NPO). How and why did you make these career moves?
Dian: My story is a fairy tale in progress. However, like all fairy tales, tragedies define it. Growing up, I found the mission of saving lives appealing and dreamed of becoming a doctor. Due to illness, I missed the entrance exam and became an engineer instead. I joined P&G as a means to explore the world. I loved traveling and managing global brands. But I started to feel that two fundamental things were missing: children and a sense of purpose. 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 married my true love, had a family, and then suddenly I lost 40 relatives and watched with horror 40,000 children orphaned due to the tsunami. That was a defining moment and with the GiveLight team, I founded an institution that protects nearly 900 orphans worldwide. Almost 10 years later, I'm looking up at the soaring Everest of my dream, wondering how to get to the top. How to raise 1000 children to become gems of humanity? I'm in the middle of the fairy tale and I have a conviction that the whole world will be inspired to help me fulfill the promise of a happy ending.
O'Brien: In which ways does your corporate experience help you run an international NPO?
Dian: I apply the same discipline to develop a solid business plan, define our brand, and to execute a long-term vision. I build strong teams and bring out the best in them. I break down huge ideas into small achievable goals and deliver with excellence. We started small but always thought big. We test and iterate ideas. We run GiveLight as if billions of dollars are on the line with each decision.
We dreamed of building homes globally, yet had no idea how to do so in the beginning. We created success measures, key milestones and plans to manage risks. We leveraged our first model building a home in Aceh and began our second home in Pakistan two years later. To date, we have built four homes, are finishing our fifth in Bangladesh, and are a permit away from starting our sixth. This isn't a touchy-feely operation. It's saving lives by combining business skills with the most powerful force in the universe: love.
O'Brien: What has been your greatest challenge and greatest joy in running GiveLight?
Dian: 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.
The greatest joy is in giving and receiving love. I became a mother to two beautiful boys after ten years of yearnings. Through GiveLight, I've become a mother a hundred times over and in the grandest possible way. I've become the woman I always wanted to be.
O'Brien: GiveLight builds homes for orphans, and provides them with an education. This is a mighty mission. Operationally, who runs the homes and where does your funding come from?
Dian: We partner and work only with those whose character, philosophy, and 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 our children are educated and loved. Our results have yielded a ton of grassroots donations and support from major corporations in the form of employee matching grants. Google, Microsoft, Paypal, Cisco, VMWare and United Way are supporters, to name just a few.
O'Brien: You speak often of "heart," "soul," and "nurturing the spirit." How vital are these things to the work and vision of GiveLight and just what does this mean to potential donors?
Dian: The heart and brain are the two most important organs in the human body. The smartest person on earth with a heart that is filled with hatred, anger or jealousy will never have inner peace. I want our children to grow and compete on the basis of their intellects, but more importantly on the basis of good character. Nurturing the soul with spirituality is a critical component to raising children who are loving and caring towards all of God's creatures.
This isn't just a pleasant philosophy/spirituality. Our children are graduating, getting married, obtaining college degrees, and are beginning to contribute to our growth. We are creating an exceptional model which defies the statistics of the lives of orphans and are creating a self-sustaining ecosystem based on these beautiful principles. When people see this ecosystem creating real solutions, they see something worth investing in.
O'Brien: Dian, you are a remarkable woman on an extraordinary quest. Thank you for sharing your story and your vision...
Dian: Thank you. The world is a troubled place with many misfortunes and injustices. A calamity of epic proportion led me to the intellectual and spiritual fulfillment I had been seeking all my life. Instead of waiting for the world to change or to be drowned by sorrow, I changed myself. I used to travel to make profit. Now I travel to save lives. I hope that long after my physical trace in this world is gone, the legacy of my children and my greater family of children will live on in humanity.