Alia Whitney-Johnson (2011 - 2012)

United States of America

Alia Whitney-Johnson

On March 5th 2015, Alia and her team successfully launched the #Lean-In Together campaign for gender equality. Alia had  joined Lean In‘s team some six months before the launch.

Having spent years developing and refining strong educational programs for Emerge, Alia spent her time as a Sauvé Scholar refining the  business strategy, financial model, and operational plan for Emerge Global the non-profit that she founded at the age of 19 so that it might continue to grow in a sustainable way. Emerge empowers young women around the world who have survived abuse to rediscover and celebrate their personal beauty, develop their self-sufficiency, and become leaders within their own communities.

In September 2012, Alia made the transition from executive director of Emerge, while remaining on the board of Emerge Global and and Emerge Lanka Foundation. She joined McKinsey & Company in 2013 and has enjoyed "learning about the private sector, getting to wear lots of different hats and seeing a variety of situations that businesses encounter day to day. ... I am really interested in the intersection of business and social impact, specifically creating financially sustainable models for change that aren’t dependent on donations."

Having launched her first venture at the age of seven, through which she became an internationally commissioned jewelry designer, Alia has always had a passion for design, entrepreneurship, and organizational development.

After entering college, she began to channel her entrepreneurial spirit into community-building projects, which sparked her interest in international development. She has since engaged her passion for development in refining a process to convert agricultural waste into charcoal for use in Haiti, conducting tsunami relief work in Sri Lanka, and developing appropriate technologies for infrastructure in Guatemala. She has also been a consultant to the World Bank and worked for the MIT School of Engineering, where she was the first Project Coordinator for the MIT Global Village Project, a project that aims to connect the MIT community with meaningful service projects around the world.

Her greatest passion, however, lies in her work in Sri Lanka with young women who have survived sexual abuse. After traveling to Sri Lanka in the summer of 2005, she founded the Emerge Beads-to-Business Program to enable Sri Lankan teenage mothers who had survived rape to develop business and life skills through jewelry design. As the program grew, she formed Emerge Global.

Her work with Emerge Global led to numerous speaking engagements at a variety of venues, including universities, conferences, professional women's groups, leadership trainings, high schools, libraries, and a rape crisis center. Alia has also received a number of awards and honours including her selection as one of Glamour Magazine’s Top Ten College Women, a Truman Scholarship in 2007 for her commitment to public service, and was one of 20 young social entrepreneurs under the age of 30 to be a YouthActionNet® Global Fellow through the International Youth Foundation. In 2010, she was a finalist for a Do Something Award®, which recognizes young world-changers who are pivotal “do-ers” in their field. In June of 2011, Alia was elected to MIT’s board of trustees, for a 5-year term.

Alia holds a B.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an MPhil in Development Studies from the University of Oxford, 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.

She loves traveling, meeting new people, dancing (she joined several cohort peers in enthusiasm for salsa), and the very special girls of Emerge.


Sauvé Fellow Alia Whitney-Johnson is managing the #Lean-In Together campaign

Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlight: Alia Whitney-Johnson, Women Lead

Profile with Alia Whitney-Johnson,
The Rhodes Project

Emerge Global Website
Video about Emerge Global

Updated March 2015

Mother Tongue

English, Spanish (moderate)

Country of origin

United States of America

Country of Residence



Development specialist and social entrepreneur


Professor Karl Moore, Associate Director Advanced Leadership Program, Desautels Faculty of Management

Contact Alia Whitney-Johnson:

View Alia Whitney-Johnson's Sauvé Project Summary:  Beads to Business: Scaling a Model that Transforms Girls' Shelters into Entrepreneurship Hubs

View Alia Whitney-Johnson's Sauvé Project Final Presentation:

“Leaders must dream of changing the world.

They must have an inspired vision of the changes they want to make and be prepared to consecrate all
their energy to that purpose. A capacity to communicate their objectives is indispensable to sustain
the enthusiasm of their collaborators and their perseverance in action.”
— The Right Honourable Jeanne Sauvé, Opening Speech to the National Conference for Young Leaders, June 2-8, 1991