ALEX AND ANI teamed up with UNICEF back in March 2016 with a goal of improving early childhood education for 6,000 toddlers in Cambodia, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam. Company founder Carolyn Rafaelian reflects on why the partnership is important to her — and why she's just getting started.
The plan was straightforward: Design a collection of charms, bracelets and necklaces that invoke the meaning of what UNICEF does for children all around the world — helping them heal, learn and grow while promoting peaceful and inclusive societies — and then donate one-fifth of the proceeds to help expand that work.
This commitment by ALEX AND ANI, a lifestyle accessories brand based in Cranston, Rhode Island, has already generated more than $1.1 million in support of UNICEF's programs in early education, peacebuilding and emergency relief, over half of the $2 million pledged. "And that's just the beginning," says Carolyn Rafaelian, the company's founder, CEO and Chief Creative Officer.
We checked in with Rafaelian to learn more about her interest in brightening kids' futures — and the inspiring power of giving a 'gift for good.'
What prompted your decision to commit to raising $2 million for UNICEF's work by August 2018? Why not another organization?
CAROLYN RAFAELIAN: Children are our greatest treasure; they are our future, and a representation of what we are able to teach and give. The current generation is always responsible for the next. We have a conscious and moral responsibility to love, teach and nurture them, and to ensure that they feel honored.
With so many crises happening around the world today, how do you choose where to focus your charitable efforts? Do you get overwhelmed?
CAROLYN RAFAELIAN: We aren't overwhelmed because we approach giving as a core piece of everything we do. That approach has led to a broad-reaching host of meaningful partnerships.
At ALEX AND ANI, we approach charitable giving as a core piece of everything we do.
One of the objectives of ALEX AND ANI's partnership with UNICEF is to support programs that "use the transformative power of education and play." Tell me why this speaks to you.
CAROLYN RAFAELIAN: It's important to me that all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential. It is every child's birthright to explore life in a safe and loving environment, with enthusiasm, wonder and excitement. By supporting UNICEF's programs in early childhood development, which reaches infants as young as 2 years old in communities that are strapped and struggling, we are helping provide the means for them to do that. There is magic in the sound of children laughing. It's a sign of a healthy community.
Tell us about your childhood and how your upbringing helped shape the person you are today.
CAROLYN RAFAELIAN: I was 100% the product of my environment. So being an adolescent in the 1970s, I absolutely wanted to be a famous roller skater (laughs). Looking back, I realize that I was lucky to have learned at a very young age how important it was to work hard, to have a vision and follow it all the way through. I spent a lot of time in my family's jewelry factory. It was there where I learned the power of creativity.
It is every child's birthright to explore life in a safe and loving environment, with enthusiasm, wonder and excitement.
Given all your personal and professional success, what are you most proud of?
CAROLYN RAFAELIAN: I feel blessed that I get to experience the opportunities my company gives to other people, helping them to express themselves and their talents. I am proud that I was fortunate enough to create a place where hard-working professionals can share their God-given gifts with the world. Ultimately, we are all working together to create something beautiful for other people to find meaning in.
What gives you joy?
CAROLYN RAFAELIAN: Seeing other people thrive, especially children. Fear holds us back. We need to laugh and find contentment however we can. The reality is, we live in a beautiful time. The Earth is still providing, and the sun is still shining. We are all creative beings striving to make the world a more peaceful place. Each and every one of us has the power to move the needle in that direction.
We are all creative beings striving to make the world a more peaceful place. Each and every one of us has the power to move the needle in that direction.
Customers can choose from a whole line of products, designed by you, to inspire support for UNICEF's work for children around the world. Do you have a favorite?
CAROLYN RAFAELIAN: The great thing about our jewelry is that there is a symbol for everyone, something unique to their life-path or connection with others. When you buy one of these charms, you'll be forever connected to the children UNICEF supports. You may never meet them, but they will know that there are people on the other side of the world who care for them. That gives us all hope.
Visit alexandani.com to see the full range of UNICEF-inspired 'gifts for good'.