Founder of Third Wave Volunteer and Winner of the 2016 Advance Social Impact Award
From Sri Lanka, Haiti, The Philippines, Greece, Turkey, Macedonia, Africa, Nepal, 12 USA hurricanes, Venezuela, The Bahamas, the Guatemala eruptions and the Syrian and Venezuelan Crisis, Alison has been in the thick of it all. For over 22 years, she has served as a full-time humanitarian volunteer and mass incident commander, running refugee camps, field hospitals and resiliency hubs in natural and man-made disasters around the world.
After losing many close friends and seeing the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York City, Alison decided to dedicate her life to service. For nine months following the attack, she volunteered as a first responder, and it was this event that changed the course of her life and ignited her deep passion for humanitarian work.
On September 11, 2001, Alison founded Third Wave Volunteers in New York City. It has since then grown to over 30,00 first responders worldwide, helping mobilize medical and non-medical responders and sustainable aid to underserved and affected communities. Over the past 19 years, this disaster relief not-for-profit organization has partnered with many other organizations with the help of over 840,000 volunteers.
In 2008, Alison joined Sean Penn and helped inspire 200 Coachella concertgoers to join them on a volunteering, cross-country camping trip, otherwise known as the “Dirty Hands Caravan”. Together, they helped run a Leukemia drive, AIDS, and May Day marches as well as cleaning up the environment. This volunteering trip ended in New Orleans where they helped rebuild the Ninth Ward, three years after Hurricane Katrina.
For her volunteerism, bravery and contributions to mankind, Alison was awarded the Order of Australia in 2010, as well as the Paul Harris Award from Rotary International.
In that same year, she joined Sean Penn and ten doctors in Haiti to help after the 2010 earthquake where they managed 70,000 people in an IDP camp and field hospital. The group worked alongside Operation United Response Task Force Haiti, the 82nd Airborne and General Simeon Trombitas who later honoured Alison with a “Medal of Excellence” Award. She was also a key healthcare leader after the 2010 Haitian cholera outbreak and was the founder of a gender-based violence rape clinic for women and girls in the dangerous Cité Soleil slums.
In 2012, Alison was appointed as the first official Ambassador to the Haitian Ministry of Environment, focusing on reforestation, clean water and sustainable energy. She later represented Haiti at the 2016 United Nations COP 22 Climate talks in Marrakesh and helped the Haitian Parliament ratify the Paris Agreement.
In 2015, she was awarded an Honorary “Doctorate of Letters” in the humanities by Loyola Chicago University.
Other accolades include the 2019 Florida Governors Hurricane Service Agency Award. The Hope Prize at TEDx Talk, the 2019 Woman of Peace Award and the 2019 Dr Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award. She was also appointed to the Board of MACtown Disabled homes and to the Advisory Board of the United Nations Chaplains Association in 2020.
Alison has worked tirelessly, and her countless humanitarian work also includes caring for refugees and developing a large network of volunteers to support and coordinate direct aid for the refugees during the Syrian refugee crisis in Lesbos (Greece) where she also delivered over 100,000 innovative origami solar lights to refugee families. She also earned the moniker, “Angel of Galle”, after the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka where she ran a busy field hospital, helped rebuild a village and school and founded the first Community Tsunami Early-Warning Centre (CTEC) as well as a Children’s Learning Centre and Tsunami Museum. Most recently, Alison worked alongside Third Wave Volunteers on the front lines of Covid-19, organizing the delivery of 1.5 million N95 masks to first responders and underserved communities in America.
As part of her humanitarian work, Alison is also incredibly passionate about inspiring others to volunteer. She has given lectures and presentations in universities, schools and corporations worldwide on leadership, volunteering, sustainability, disaster preparedness, gender-based violence, women’s rights and corporate social responsibility. Her award-winning documentary, “The Third Wave”, chronicles her volunteer experience in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami. It was later screened and presented by Sean Penn and Bono in a Presidential Jury Screening at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. Alison also published, “The Third Wave: A Volunteer Story”.
A firm believer that everyone is needed, and anybody can be a volunteer, Alison tailors her message to inspire her audiences to service and take action just as she has and as an everyday, average individual.