For Katie-Jay Scott a day in the office is never the same, or the least bit boring. Katie-Jay is the Director of Operations and Community Involvement for i-ACT, an organization dedicated to working with communities affected by genocide, mass atrocities, and crimes against humanity. Between balancing family and her passion for community organizing, Katie-Jay’s life is fast-paced and busy every day.
i-ACT is run by a small staff that manages every aspect of the organization. Much of their work involves Darfur refugees, not only working on the ground in refugee camps, but also creating a campaign around their human experience that personally connects people throughout the world with refugee issues. As an organization, i-ACT seeks to amplify the voices of refugees by telling their stories to people who would otherwise never know about them.
In the field, Katie-Jay’s team is working in refugee camps to tackle an ever-persistent problem: lack of quality education, especially preschools. To address this need, i-ACT created the Little Ripples program, which provides communities with the resources to create a preschool curriculum by integrating expert advice, local cultural history, and community members’ stories and games. In particular, the program focuses on areas of learning, peace-building, and trauma recovery. The curriculum they developed is sustainable and can be adapted and implemented wherever refugee populations go.
“i-ACT fosters a relationship and it captures the stories of the refugees,” Katie-Jay says. “The programs are human-centered – not solely policy driven.” Through programs addressing activism, sports, and education, i-ACT ensures its programs are community-oriented.
Long before Katie-Jay entered the nonprofit world, she was a student in the 2003 Spring semester of CIEE’s Development and Globalization (DG) study abroad program in Khon Kaen, Thailand. The program heavily emphasized teamwork, and Katie-Jay soon learned how to organize communities, facilitate group work, and navigate group dynamics.
“The most difficult experience I had as a student in Thailand was when we were split up based on personalities. I was placed in the very outgoing, boisterous, ‘lead from the front’ group,” she said. “At our midyear retreat, the whole DG group called out our group for being overbearing.”
This moment became the turning point for Katie-Jay’s semester in Thailand. During group discussions with villagers – a core component of the DG education model - she began to pace herself with comments and questions instead of jumping right in as she had in the past. Stepping back allowed her to realize that she was a better facilitator and organizer when she listened to those around her.
This experience soon shaped Katie-Jay’s interest in facilitating groups when she decided to remain in Thailand as a CIEE intern for eight months after her study abroad semester. As an intern, Katie-Jay led a project on the Pak Mun Dam, which created a space for villagers and groups of people affected by the push for hydroelectric power in Northeast Thailand to come together and share ideas. Additionally, she acted as a facilitator to help CIEE students efficiently delegate tasks and roles for the project.
“In Thailand, I learned how to listen to villagers, work in inner cities, interact with all types of people, and how to apply what I learned through various community efforts and projects.”
Once Katie-Jay returned to America, she and other former CIEE interns worked hard to make ENGAGE a legally recognized nonprofit organization. She is one of the founding members of ENGAGE’s Board of Peers, which oversees its long-term strategy and maintains its nonprofit status. She served on the Board of Peers from 2004-2006, and has recently joined ENGAGE’S newly created advisor team.
“ENGAGE is what gave me the foundation and courage to take on other issues,” Katie-Jay says. “With ENGAGE we were trying to coordinate individuals who were living in different states, which set the foundation to test and try new things, start over, and do it all over again.”
One of ENGAGE’s first international campaigns was organizing Jasmine Rice Tours, which brought farmers from Thailand to the United States to cultivate awareness about where rice farmed overseas comes from, and to promote the fair trade movement. “The rice tours went through Portland, so I got to meet farmers and other CIEE alums,” says Katie-Jay. She organized two Jasmine Rice Tours, which further fueled her passion for community organizing.
Through her involvement in many service and activist organizations, Katie-Jay continues to facilitate discussions between individuals that want to mobilize as a group. Pursuing her drive to bring people together through a common cause, Katie-Jay says, “it’s the fundamental idea that people are the center of everything we do.”
Even after all these years and her interest in other projects, Katie-Jay has continued to work with ENGAGE. “The shared experience changed me as a person,” Katie-Jay says, reflecting on her time with CIEE Thailand and her desire to continue being a part of that community. “Going through the process - whether it’s listening to the villager or working in groups - will guide how you interact with people, and this is what I wanted to apply to being an ENGAGE board member and most importantly, now, a mother.”
This past summer, Katie-Jay participated in the 2015 Convergence in L.A., where she led a strategic planning session with attendees to envision the future of ENGAGE. She also helped establish the Grow the Roots Giving Circle, a brand new fundraising program designed to sustain the ENGAGE network. “We want to foster nostalgia with fellow CIEE participants and encourage them to give because this allows us to reconnect with some of the older, wiser, more established members and get them to support younger ENGAGE members.”
She hopes that the legacy ENGAGE creates for future CIEE students builds a foundation where people can learn community organizing and facilitation and apply these skills in all aspects of their lives.