Opening the Door: 26-Year-Old Helps Girls Become the First in Their Families to Graduate
Leading up to the International Day of the Girl on October 11, Intel and 10x10act.org will be celebrating the heroes making a real difference in girls’ education around the world.
Tammy Tibbetts wants to make something clear. Despite the fact that she was the brainchild behind She’s the First, a three-year-old organization that has raised thousands of dollars for girls’ education in Latin America, Africa and Asia, she is not the only hero here. “Collaboration is key to our impact,” says the organization’s 26-year-old president. “The true heroes are our partners [who range] from 25-year-old Maggie Doyne adopting children in Nepal to Carol Rinehart at Project Education Sudan. They are the ones who help us rally our teams of millennial peers.”
Just a few years ago, Tibbetts was the editor for MyPromStyle.com, the prom site for teen magazines, including Seventeen. At night, she was working a second job as the director of operations for a nonprofit that helped orphans in Liberia. Slowly, she started combining her two interests—helping girls and raising awareness through social media—by first launching a popular site called DonateMyDress.org, a directory for people who wanted to donate their old dresses to girls who could not afford a prom dress.
But after visiting the wreckage of Liberia, Tibbetts felt she could do more to help girls globally. Fed up with socialite galas, a lack of transparency in charities, and few easily accessible resources for those who want to help, she decided it was time to bump philanthropy into the 21st century. “How could I take the success of the dresses and use social media to activate people to make a difference?” she mused. “All the small actions we’re capable of can create a community. Collectively they make a huge difference.”
In 2009, Tibbetts gathered together a team, and together they launched She’s the First, a social-media-heavy organization that inspires college students to fundraise for girls in need in developing countries. Since its conception, She’s the First—the name is meant to inspire girls to feel proud of their pioneering accomplishments—has forged partnerships with eight schools or organizations worldwide that are transparent, focused on girls, and have proven results. People can go to shesthefirst.org to donate to any of these partners, which are listed and described on the site in a directory.
Although Tibbetts says donations are pouring in from people of all ages (She's the First has raised more than $240,000 in sponsorships since 2011), her staff has made college fundraising in particular a cheerful pursuit. She’s the First has 35 chapters in colleges across the country. The chapter members educate their peers by running fundraisers and screening films. Specific campaigns, like this fall’s second annual Tie-Dye Cupcake Bake-Off (November 12-18), raise awareness and give the chapters’ participants—both women and men—a sense of identity and purpose. After all, the organization’s mission is to educate girls in need and, “…foster leadership and global awareness in young Americans, by inspiring them to lead creative fundraisers and correspond with sponsored students. Our efforts shape a rising generation of well-educated global leaders, future philanthropists, and cross-cultural communicators.”
Many of those who have been involved in She’s the First are now going on to lead volunteer efforts themselves. “Lindsay Brown is the most famous example,” Tibbetts says, referring to the Notre Dame She’s the First chapter leader who is currently on the cover of Seventeen for winning the “Pretty Amazing” award. Brown volunteered to teach English in Nepal for a month at a She’s the First school, and ended up forming an all-girls soccer team (a first for Nepal) when she discovered girls do better in class when engaged in sports. “Her work spiraled into her own nonprofit initiative that she is bringing to other countries, like our partner school in Guatemala.”
By the end of this year, 300 girls worldwide will have been sponsored by She’s the First donations. The goal for 2013 is 600. “I’ve been told by our partners that She’s the First-sponsored girls have shown such stronger potential as leaders and they are a little bit more outspoken and confident because they have been told what it means to be sponsored,” says Tibbetts, who also happens to be the first in her immediate family to graduate from college. She adds that she hopes She’s the First will really create a stable international community of people who are proud to help each other out and offer each other steps to better education. “We want our sponsors to feel like they are beneficiaries and that they are actually partners in the change we are hoping to achieve for universal education.”
Kristin Kloberdanz is a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay area. She has written for Time, the Chicago Tribune and Forbes.com about everything from economic crises and political snafus to best summer beach reads.