Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Interview with Tammy Tibbetts, Founder of She's the First

Below is the transcipt of my interview with Tammy Tibbetts, founder of She's The First, a media campaign that promotes the importance of educating girls who would otherwise not have the opportunity to go to school. Tammy discussed the importance of education, her mantra of "style and substance" and how social media sets the groundwork for non-profit organizations.

 Tell me about She's the First.
She’s the First is a media campaign that promotes the importance of educating girls in developing nations. Our directory on shesthefirst.org connects you with programs to sponsor a girl's tuition. Behind-the-scenes, we're also connecting the directors of these sponsorship programs on a social network so they can troubleshoot challenges and share great ideas.

In 2010, we're focused on spreading our PSA video and building a following on Twitter and Facebook. At the same time, we believe in offline action and are tapping into the power of college women to mobilize their residential communities. When else do you get to live in such close quarters with likeminded peers, having the chance to unite them around the cause that brings you together in the first place -- education? Think of how easy it is to collect $5 or $10 from each dormmate -- the cost of a venti Starbucks latte or a movie ticket. That adds up to the cost of a year's tuition for a girl, which can be as little as $100 in some countries.

How do you think educating women will change the world?
This is such a paramount question and I have to completely defer to the two journalists who answered it best: Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, who in 2009 published "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide." Their extensive research and field reporting explained how it's important to invest in educating girls because research shows that doing so: 1) makes her likely to marry later and have fewer children, 2) increases her income, which she is more likely to reinvest into her family than a man would, 3) makes her more likely to have healthy babies and pass along good hygiene. In a nutshell, when a woman is educated, she raises her family up from poverty, and strong families are the building blocks of strong nations.

Why are role models so important?
Role models give you the audacity to be fearless. They're not perfect, but their strengths give you something to emulate and focus on. With an overwhelming number of causes to support and problems to solve, focus is critical, and its nice to have your role model's mantras and inspiring achievements to draw on. For me, Ruth Whitney, the editor-in-chief of Glamour during critical decades of American feminism, is a role model because she lived by a mantra of "style and substance." Audrey Hepburn is another, because she balanced a career that was entertaining with meaningful humanitarian work.

You won Mashable's Sharing Happiness Contest, and have been using a variety of social media outlets to spread the word. What have you seen be the most effective? What hasn't worked?
Yes, our director, Christen Brandt (who is a junior at Syracuse University), won that honor for us! It's very important to keep your message simple. When taking on very complex global issues, you need to be direct and clear in your call to action. When you watch the She's the First PSA video, which we recorded with singer JoJo and young women, you know exactly what to do: bring a group of friends together, chip in for a girl's tuition, and go to shesthefirst.org to find a sponsorship program to support.

Also, when posting updates to Twitter and Facebook, it's important that you don't sound like a broken record or constant solicit people for money. We're not repeatedly tweeting, 'sponsor a girl.' Instead, we're tweeting news articles that underscore the importance of educating girls around the world and success stories. People want to follow us because they know we'll keep them well informed on the issue. Build awareness as well as call for action.

What advice could you give to non-profits trying to build an online presence?
Before shesthefirst.org launched, we had a Facebook page and a Twitter account. Make sure you have those -- if not also a YouTube and Flickr account. Social media lets you be transparent about the actions you're taking and the issues you're closely following; ultimately, transparency is what builds empathy and drives people to contribute to the change you want to make.

Social media should be the groundwork of your cause, because the greater your audience is, the greater awareness you can achieve. And the more engaged your audience is, the more action you can inspire to drive results. Unlike reading a media kit or brochure about your organization, your social media presence lets your supporters talk back to you...they listen, they learn, and then they lead.