We love to see people doing good in any city, but especially within Chicago. Windy City natives making a difference benefits the spirit of our city, and ripples far beyond us and into the world. Iliana E. Alvarenga is the perfect example of that, and her work with UNICEF Chicago’s Next Generation is helping children across the globe. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the UNICEF Hope Gala, taking place on April 29th, and to celebrate a decade of good work, we got tips from Alvarenga on just how good it can feel to do good.
What led you to become involved with UNICEF, as opposed to other charities?
UNICEF does whatever it takes to put children first and has helped save more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization. Operating in more than 190 countries, UNICEF has spent the past 70 years working to save and protect millions of children worldwide through their mission: “All children have a right to survive, thrive and fulfill their potential – to the benefit of a better world.”
The scale of its programs and significant wide reach is what continues to inspire me to dedicate my time and efforts to UNICEF. The impact is profound and their expertise in tackling the world’s most severe challenges has resulted in strong relationships with governments and partners, which ultimately leads to actionable, tangible, and sustainable solutions both short-term and long-term.
How did you grow your role to be a part of Next Generation?
I started my involvement with UNICEF USA in 2010 as a university student at Loyola University Chicago. Back then, I was the Chair of Advocacy for our Loyola chapter. The organization immediately became an important part of my life. When I look back over the years, I realize that I’ve dedicated more time to this organization than any other one cause, program, hobby or pastime and it has been the most special and rewarding 7 years of my life.
[…] Upon graduation, I joined UNICEF Next Generation – a group of young professionals that take on projects and support educational events to support UNICEF’s mission- which has led to my position now as a Steering Committee member here in Chicago.
What are some things people should know about UNICEF that they might not already know?
UNICEF is constantly working towards identifying the most actionable global solutions, which in many cases, is through leveraging technology and innovation. The organization even has a department dedicated to this—the Innovation Unit, that strives to tackle global problems, from figuring out new ways to structure programs and create new products and technologies. I actually just learned about a unique collaboration between UNICEF Brazil and Facebook.
Facebook shared anonymized and aggregated statuses in Brazil that were integral in not only better informing UNICEF about the population’s understanding of Zika, but also in how they addressed the health emergency. This was the first time that Facebook trends, patterns and data sets that explained how people were thinking about the disease through online interactions helped the organization create a more effective intervention strategy.
Tell us about the Hope Gala! What can we expect?
The Hope Gala is one of the most exciting nights of philanthropy for UNICEF here in Chicago and the Midwest region, and this year marks the 10th anniversary of the gala. It’s a night of celebration for the organization’s lifesaving work bolstered by an incredible and vibrant community of philanthropic leaders. The event brings together around 500 Chicagoans to raise more than $1 million to support UNICEF’s commitment in putting children first. […]
In 2017, a time when no child should lack access to basic needs such as water, food and protection, children are suffering. We hear the quote, “our children are our future” so often that, to some, it has lost its profoundness. But, protecting our children worldwide is something that impacts all of us, regardless of where we live. Strengthening their communities, protecting them from sexual and labor exploitation, keeping them safe from war and violence, creating educational and stimulating environments, caring for their health and nutrition; these are all things that help kids reach their full potential.
Why is volunteering such an important addition to someone’s life?
Volunteering is important because it not only offers people the opportunity to make a difference in the world, but it also allows them to feel as though they’re a part of something much larger than themselves. There’s a sense of purpose that is likely to be found through the course of volunteering. Being a part of something, whether it’s a local group, national organization or global movement, inherently makes people feel inspired and empowered. It can boost confidence, cultivate a sense of belonging, and more importantly, solidify a sense of purpose. These personal benefits that come with “giving back” can then ripple across communities, and that’s when philanthropy becomes even more powerful.
What are small steps we can take to get started?
Simply just talking and sharing stories – The power of storytelling is truly significant. Sharing why something matters to you or spreading awareness can have a rippling effect on communities. A cause or idea or passion always starts with one person and is then spread across groups of people until there’s a movement of volunteers and activists that feel so strongly about something that change and progress becomes attainable and achievable.
Cultivate a community of volunteers and activists – Once your community is developed, whether it’s a group of five friends or 20, the strength is in your hands. You can host small thought clubs, dinners, panels, speaking events, fundraisers, etc. There isn’t anything you can’t do, especially here in Chicago.
Be creative – Chicago is a very active and philanthropic city. You’d be surprised to see how many businesses and individuals are ready to jump at an opportunity to help make a difference. It can absolutely be a little bit daunting to engage other people, at first. But, there’s nothing to lose just by asking. And, also don’t be afraid to creative in order to engage and tap into your networks.