If Lisa Dougan's shoes were to tell a story they would begin on the marble hallways of the Capitol building in Washington and end on the clay streets of central Africa. Both of which would, undoubtedly, be described with the same level of enthusiasm.
"I constantly reconnect to the humanity of my work" says Dougan, CEO of Invisible Children, an organisation set up to help combat the kidnapping of children in central Africa. Her frustration with bureaucracy is apparent, but diluted by traditional experiences she has lobbying with politicians. We are both sitting in our respective work spaces, comfortable, and talking on the phone. As we speak, hundreds of children are getting ready for bed with the fear of abduction in South Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR), and the Democratic Republic of the Congo - a fear that originated 27 years ago with Joseph Kony, the self appointed messiah of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) dedicated to terrorising the region. "Everyday I feel the urgency of the situation in central Africa, but I have to hold that in tension due to the slow moving process of political advocacy" says Dougan. As CEO of Invisible Children, Dougan spends around four months in central Africa with the majority of her time consumed by acquiring donations and lobbying in Washington. After over ten years of creative documentaries, explanatory meetings with law makers, and loud protests Dougan and her team are confident that an end to the LRA is near.
The mutilated and indoctrinated young faces of child soldiers are difficult to internalise, but easy to divorce. "These fellow human beings have friends, favourite foods, inside jokes, and that person they find attractive -they are all of this" says Dougan, clearly motivated as she recites what is now the mantra of an organisation ready to end a bloody battle. Although the need for legislative and armed support is apparent, the marginalisation of community activists in central Africa complicates Dougan's positive intentions. Instead of waiting for the approval of legislation, Dougan uses radio networks and a 'Come Home' flier system that is distributed to the kidnapped children providing information on how to escape the LRA. Through these efforts, Dougan and her team empower on the ground initiatives in central Africa - and, Invisible Children is producing unparalleled results. Earlier this month, due to the efforts of Dougan and other community activists, Okot George Odek - a senior LRA commander - defected his post and surrendered to the Ugandan authorities. As the people of central Africa begin to utilise the technology supported by Invisible Children, Kony and the LRA begin to lose power. "It is important to support and reinforce the people in central Africa, it is what will win this fight," declares Dougan.
Last March, three years after the organisation produced the viral documentary Kony 2012, Dougan became CEO and Invisible Children drastically reduced its Washington staff. She now focuses on changing political legislation, and managing larger teams in central Africa devoted to protecting and liberating those affected by the LRA. Although media scrutiny is not an oddity to Dougan and her team, Invisible Children leads a financially transparent campaign. She says "the communities affected by this conflict are now friends, and that is motivation to give 100 percent all the time." Dougan speaks plainly when clarifying why politicians and potential donors should care about the invisible children of central Africa. "The answer is simple," she says "they are just like us and that is why we should care." Dougan has dedicated the last ten years of her life to Invisible Children with unparalleled compassion for all people, something difficult to convey to politicians who will occasionally redirect her initiative toward something more American. On days where frustrating bureaucracy prevails, she retells the stories of the children in central Africa who are not experiencing the protection and peace they deserve, but who remain resilient in the face of extraordinary injustices.
Dougan says politicians remember the personal stories, not the facts. She is confident that it wants to inspire change, but is deterred by the slow moving methods of American democracy. Her go-to story is one she thinks of daily, about a young boy named Steven who escaped the LRA after finding a defection flier. She uses a series of vivid adjectives to describe Stevens getaway and concludes by telling a story about her father who is also named Steven. This parallel with the name Steven, one far away and one close to home, illuminates a "heart-rending necessity for an immediate call to action on the LRA conflict" says Dougan.
As the sun subdues the cool African night, a breakfast of bread with questionable butter, and powdered coffee is fuel for a long day. On the ground, Dougan and her staff assist the communities afflicted by LRA violence through both the radio network and the 'Come Home' flier system. The latter provides emotional messages, with pictures of families, informing the brainwashed fighters of the LRA on how to safely escape. The early warning radio network disrupts patterns of violence by providing information to neighbouring LRA affected communities.
Passion and bravery come naturally to Dougan, as she embodies all the characteristics of a leader. She is resilient and says she will not stop until Joseph Kony and the LRA are reduced to vague memories of a darker time. Despite a small staff and little legislative backing, Invisible Children is rich with support from millennials and celebrities committed to ending LRA violence. Dougan says "the fight to end the LRA is more than just about child soldiers and displaced communities, it is about realising we are all humans in need of help". And that is what makes Invisible Children and Dougan enchanting, each employee a warrior, fighting an underrepresented battle against a powerful warlord, using technology and humanity to bring peace to a world riddled with hate.