Alia Whitney-Johnson (USA)

Alia Whitney-Johnson is the founder of Emerge Global, a social enterprise in Sri Lanka that equips girls who have survived sexual abuse with the business acumen, financial capital, and life skills to lead healthy, self-sufficient lives. Using jewellery creation as a tool for education, art therapy, and financial empowerment, Emerge has enabled more than 550 young women to launch businesses, finance education, build homes, and mentor other young women. Emerge was selected as Boston’s Small Charity of the Year (2010, Classy Awards) and has been featured on the front page of the Boston Globe’s fashion section, in Glamour Magazine, on Good Morning Sri Lanka, and as the cover story of Sri Lanka’s largest pop culture magazine. In 2013, Emerge was the featured case study in the book “Do Good Well,” a #1 Amazon bestseller with reviews from Muhammad Yunus and Nicholas Kristof. Emerge has been recognized by the American Ambassador and Miss Sri Lanka, and has successfully transitioned to local leadership in Sri Lanka.

Alia’s work with Emerge has led to a number of awards, including her selections as one of Glamour Magazine’s Top Ten College Women, a Truman Scholar for public service, one of 20 young social entrepreneurs to be a YouthActionNet® Global Fellow (2009), and one of 14 young global leaders to become a Sauvé Scholar (2011).

In addition to her work with Emerge, Alia has worked for the World Bank, McKinsey & Company, and LeanIn.Org, with projects spanning mobile money operations to project managing #LeanInTogether, a public awareness campaign focused on men and their important role in reaching gender equality. She currently sits on the MIT Corporation, MIT’s Board of Trustees.

Alia holds a B.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from MIT and an MPhil in Development Studies from Oxford University, where she studied as a Rhodes Scholar. Her masters research focused on how human resource management within Sri Lanka’s apparel industry affects women’s empowerment.