Delivering global lifelines

April 19, 2021 — Soon after Jocelyn Wyatt ’99 became CEO of the global humanitarian organization Alight last December, she embarked on a 100-day listening tour. 

With 3,000 people working in 20 nations, Wyatt wanted to meet Alight’s team members and learn how the group aids refugees and internally displaced people. She traveled to El Salvador, Colombia, Jordan, Sudan, and Kenya, and she met with employees at the group’s offices in Minneapolis and Washington D.C.

Then came Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Wyatt saw firsthand how Alight provides vital assistance. “In the last six weeks we’ve had teams on the ground in Poland and Ukraine, focusing on getting food and medical supplies to Ukraine, and serving new arrivals at the border crossing,” says Wyatt, who spent three days in April at Polish checkpoints near Ukraine’s border.

The first thing Alight did was what the organization calls ‘Doing the Doable.’ 

Jocelyn Wyatt ’99, right, CEO of Alight, talks with a colleague at the Medyka border crossing.
Jocelyn Wyatt ’99, right, CEO of Alight, talks with a colleague at the Medyka border crossing. Alight has had teams on the ground in Poland and Ukraine, focusing on getting food and medical supplies to Ukrainians and serving new arrivals at the border. All photos provided by Jon Atwell.

“We responded to immediate needs, shipping tons of food and medical supplies and health/hygiene items into Ukraine after procuring them in Poland,” Wyatt explains. “At the border, we do everything from giving people blankets, hats and gloves, to providing suitcases so they can take their belongings out of plastic bags and cross the border with more dignity.” The group also hired Ukrainians to meet fellow citizens at Polish train stations and reception centers.

“We’re creating family-friendly welcoming centers near border crossings to give people a place to rest, connect with others and figure out their next steps,” Wyatt adds. Those fleeing war can get health care, pet care, diapers, a hot meal, and guidance to safe haven cities in Poland. Alight also sets them up with temporary, free housing through a partnership with

Wyatt, who’s based in New York City, was born in Vermont and grew up in several college towns in the U.S.; her dad was a college fundraiser, and her mom was a teacher. She has two younger brothers including one that followed in her footsteps to Grinnell, Reid Wyatt ’06

Jocelyn majored in anthropology at Grinnell, and her career choice was heavily influenced by Professor Jon Andelson ’70 and her own family. Her parents had lived abroad and her grandmothers were world travelers. The family often hosted international students while she was growing up.

Jocelyn Wyatt ’99, right, CEO of Alight, talks with a colleague at the Medyka border crossing.
Alight workers help displaced citizens April 3 at the Medyka border crossing between Ukraine and Poland.  

“Anthropology was a great opportunity to understand the world and people and culture,” says Wyatt, who studied in Barcelona her third year at Grinnell. “I focused on cultural anthropology and that’s what led me to international development. I wanted to find a job where I could do something good, have a social impact, and the opportunity to travel around the world.” 

After graduation, Wyatt worked for a USAID contractor on global development. She later earned a graduate degree in business, had a year-long fellowship that focused on leadership development for people who want to be social changemakers, then went to work as social impact lead at IDEO, a global design and innovation firm. She later co-founded and became CEO of, and for 10 years led the company’s partnerships with nonprofits and other organizations around the globe to design programs, products, and services focused on improving health, economic mobility, and wellbeing to those in the greatest need. 

Alight (formerly the American Refugee Committee) was one of the partners worked with, so when the opportunity arose to lead the organization, Wyatt was intrigued. “I felt like this was a chance to work with an organization I deeply believed in and a cause that felt incredibly important,” she says. 

Wyatt, who has served on the Grinnell College Alumni Council, been a class agent, and hosted student externships, admits that what she sees and hears on a regular basis can be heartbreaking. 

“It’s important to keep some emotional distance while listening with empathy,” she says. “And you have to find a balance. If you want to do this work for a long time you have to take care of yourself. It’s a combination of therapy, coaching and talking to peers who do the work – and going on vacation and occasionally distancing from it. You need to take a breath and have some time when you’re not all-consumed.” 

— by Anne Stein ’84

For your information:

Learn more about Alight’s support efforts for displaced Ukrainians.

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