Providing Opportunity From Afar
How Hannah Wagner’s Corporate Role is Supporting Communities in Uganda
Imagine fleeing your homeland with little more than the clothes on your back—going to a country where you may not know the language, where even your most basic needs can be hard to meet. For 40 years, one organization has made it its mission to ensure that not only those basic needs are met, but that lives are transformed. The organization—known today as Alight—provides health care, clean water, shelter, protection and economic opportunity to more than 3.5 million people in 17 countries each year.
One reason Alight can accomplish so much is that it enlists the help of companies committed to making a difference in the world through its program Changemakers 365. Sponsoring companies spend $500 a day for one month to effect real change with on-the-ground community input.
One company that has been a huge ally for Alight is Minneapolis-based Atomic Data. Several years ago, Atomic Data’s CEO Jim Wolford visited the Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Uganda, which is home to more than 100,000 people displaced from their homelands. Many of the settlers are children who fled to Nakivale because of war.
“Jim has been on this journey of Changemakers with us from the beginning. He’s been a champion for giving the power and the space to the people who need to have a voice the most,” says Angela Eifert, Global Connector with Alight.
As part of its support, Atomic Data donated $100,000 to help the Nakivale settlement design and construct the much-needed Nakivale Community Library Network (NCLN), an initiative designed to promote literacy and provide easy access to books and other information resources. Today, Atomic Data continues to support the library through an annual operational budget and one-off projects like Changemakers 365. This past November, its approximately 200 employees voted on 30 ideas to be implemented at the library.
“It’s been kind of overwhelming. Being able to be engaged in this way—it’s not like any of the other programs that we support”
We sat down with Hannah Wagner who oversees the company’s support for Changemakers 365 to learn more about the campaign and why it is so close to her and the hearts of the Atomic Data team.
How did you choose your projects for Changemakers?
The staff at the Nakivale Settlement library, Alight staff, and Atomic Data employees came up with a couple hundred ideas that were needed, and then as a company, we voted on the top 30 that they wanted to see implemented.
Do you get to see the progress of the projects?
Yes. With the support of Alight, there are individuals on the ground who make sure that all of these things get done. Through WhatsApp, we get pictures and status updates every day and we can communicate with everyone there.
Kidz corner sessions: Simple activities and entrainment for the children in the form of parties. Nyandja Art team painting children’s faces with their favourite colours.
What has been the response from your employees?
It’s been kind of overwhelming. Being able to be engaged in this way—it’s not like any of the other programs that we support. With other projects, you may hear about your company donating X amount of dollars to organizations, but you don’t really get to see what that money is going toward.
And how about the response from the individuals in the settlement?
They’re very thankful. We have six or seven of the people who are on the ground in Nakivale right now messaging with us every day. And they send us updates and pictures and videos. It’s amazing what $500 a day can do. Some of the kids there have never had a book before. And now they can take a book home; they can learn how to read. A lot of these kids don’t have the funds to go to school. It’s not an attainable thing for them and their families. So just having a place for education, a place to gather, is so important.
What, if any, challenges have you faced with this project?
Originally, we sent books to Africa to fill a library without doing our research. After some time we found out that the books weren’t necessarily in the languages that people would want. So we strategized on how we could make this work because we all know how powerful reading is, and we all know how beneficial libraries are. We worked closely with the people there and chose a location and programming that made more sense. It was a little trial and error at first that got us to where it is today. But I think that the most effective thing was communicating with the people who were there and asking them, “What can we do to make this work for you? And how can we make this a place where you want to visit?” I think that was what made this successful. We also had a few structural issues at the beginning but after getting some architects and builders involved in the project (virtually) we were able to catch this early on before the project got too far!
How, if at all, did the pandemic affect your support for this project?
We wanted to get a lot of this programming moving forward sooner, but of course, gathering and getting large groups out to the library wasn’t a feasible idea for awhile. And so it definitely didn’t move as quickly as we were hoping. It just took a little bit more time and a little bit more planning. And when we were coming up with some of the ideations and talking about what we wanted to do, we focused a bit more on things like getting masks or hand sanitizer. All of the items that have become a part of our everyday lives aren’t as easily accessible over there. So we tied some of those elements into our plans.
“Sometimes you can get lost in the day-to-day of just doing your job and clocking out at five o’clock. But when you’re supporting these organizations that are doing these amazing things here locally or around the world, it makes your passion to do your work a lot stronger.”
Why is it important to Atomic Data to give back in a way such as this?
I think that everything we do we want there to be a meaning behind it. Sometimes you can get lost in the day-to-day of just doing your job and clocking out at five o’clock. But when you’re supporting these organizations that are doing these amazing things here locally or around the world, it makes your passion to do your work a lot stronger. And that you’re working for a company that’s putting so much effort into making the world a better place and making sure that part of the money that you’re making as an employee is going back to these great organizations that are doing amazing things, it really brings the company together. It has become a foundational principle in our culture and employees and clients both really value the commitment.
Republished with permission from Passion Collective.