Having just returned from a transformative, inspirational week in Armenia at the Aurora Dialogues, I want to share my gratitude and experience.

As descendants of survivors of the Armenian genocide, the amazing three founders of the AuroraPrize turned their grief of their ancestors’ painful tragedy (millions of people killed and displaced around the world) and their gratitude for those that acted to save and shelter those survivors, into action! Recognizing the work of those who are responding to the greatest tragedies of our time, they have funded the #AuroraPrize – a $100,000 award to the winner, with a further $1,000,000 that the winner awards to other humanitarian organizations who supported or inspired them, and more attention than any aid worker could desire!

Out of approximately 200 nominations, the selection committee selected 5 incredible finalists from Southern Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Congo, and Afghanistan and you can hear more about them here. All week, we learned about their life-saving and impactful work, and had the opportunity to meet and talk with them. What struck (and pained) me most was that most worked on similar issues that SEED tackles – working with survivors of violence and conflict, and particularly with women who have been exposed to sexual violence, as well as basic women’s rights.

I could write a whole blog telling you about:

  • The impactful way that I learned about the Armenian genocide and people’s experiences at the Genocide Museum and Memorial.
  • The star-studded events with the all-time most famous Armenians like Charles Aznavour, opera singers, sports stars, but also notable thought leaders such as former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, Washington Post columnist, David Ignatius, and the list goes on…
  • The overwhelming stimulation of the senses with beautiful events with music, dance, food, and renowned hospitality and generosity of our Armenian hosts, where every need was graciously attended to.
  • The beautiful, accessible, green and clean walking city, where everything was walkable, safe, and people were pleasant and friendly – which was so rejuvenating and restorative!
  • How everything was branded and packaged and gave me serious PR material and branding envy!

But no, I will not spend my blog talking about these things…. I want to focus on the deeper meaning of the event which touched my soul and left me reassured about humanity.

The concept of Gratitude in Action – the notion that that survivors recognize the work done every day to help new survivors and this work must be recognized and rewarded — was very effectively threaded through all of these marvelous events and thoughtful panel discussions. Top experts, academics and practitioners from all over the world, shared a range of views and approaches, which was both interesting and stimulating. Not only did I get to share the challenges of working with survivors of ISIS brutality in Kurdistan, but also had an opportunity to discuss different approaches to difficult and challenging environments, with a broad range of professional contacts and leaders. It was cathartic to be heard and to know that SEED’s work was recognized and valued. There were so many new linkages and also direct connections (I shared the panel with the UNHR head for Mosul and a woman who will lead some research on Yezidi survivors settled in Canada and potentially collaborate on research of how different services improve the well-being in Canada and Kurdistan!), as well an opportunity to mingle with some Executive Director’s of more established NGOs, where I got to talk strategies, visions, tactics about building a new NGO. Finally, the panel with the CEOs of multi-national companies, Braun and Unilever, who not only care about the plight of refugees but who see it in their companies’ and countries’ best interests to employ them, was visionary.

All and all, the week in Armenia simply blew me away!  It left me energized and renewed, and totally super-charged to go back to the grind, full of ideas and motivation! I hope I get invited back next year!