Founder & President, She's the First
Posted on: February 16, 2012 | Go to profile
A passionate advocate for the power of social media to create social change, Tammy’s non-profit She’s the First sponsors girls’ education in the developing world, helping girls be the first in their families to graduate. In the process Tammy is helping nurture the next generation of global leaders, cross-cultural storytellers, and philanthropists in the United States. Co-founder of the benefit concert GIRLS WHO ROCK, Tammy has helped sponsor girls in Tanzania and Uganda, in addition to freelancing as the web editor for Hearst Digital Media where she launched DonateMyDress.org. Tammy has been recognized as a Glamour Woman of the Year and in the Huffington Post’s “Greatest Person of the Day” series.
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: When I was in high school, I discovered a love for newspaper reporting, so in college, I pursued journalism and became an investigative reporter for the College of New Jersey student newspaper. I decided I liked feature reporting better, and I then pursued internships in New York City at Seventeen, JANE, and Ladies’ Home Journal, dead-set on becoming a magazine editor. A few weeks before graduation, I heard of a job assisting the Director of Content at Hearst Digital Media and accepted the offer on a freelance basis, thinking I’d leave when the glossy editorial assistant job in print magazines came calling. But when it did, I turned it down and decided to stay in the business of digital magazines.
In the summer of 2007, Hearst was launching a digital spin-off of its popular Mis Quince insert from Seventeen (for Latinas celebrating their 15th birthday rite of passage), and with my love for teens and a Spanish minor, I got the job of launching the site. Three months later, Hearst Digital had its first bilingual site, and I moved on to create its prom site for Seventeen, CosmoGirl and Teen. I hatched MyPromStyle.com (now Seventeen.com/Prom), as well as a celebrity-driven video series, The Ultimate Prom. A year later, I became the founding editor of DonateMyDress.org, a directory of prom dress drives around the country.
Ultimate Prom and DonateMyDress.org gave me the experience I needed to ultimately build GIRLS WHO ROCK and She’s the First. Inspired by some volunteer work I had done in those first two years of living in NYC, in 2009, I launched She’s the First as a media campaign. It is now a 501(c) (3) not-for-profit organization sponsoring girls’ education in the developing world, with a team of Millennial women, who all became connected to the cause through word of mouth and Facebook. One year later, I co-founded GIRLS WHO ROCK with Cynthia Hellen, a Twitter friend, and Annie Reuter, a former JANE intern.
Today, I still work at Hearst Digital Media as a freelance social media editor at a teen magazine, while continuing to grow She’s the First into a sustainable organization funded with full-time staffing.
Q: I love the quote “the bigger the vision, the smaller the first step.” Right now, what is the big vision you have for your career?
A: My vision is to use the power of storytelling to promote digital literacy and cross-cultural dialogue among youth worldwide, ultimately shaping an interconnected and compassionate world of equal opportunity.
Q: Can you share a story of how networking led to a great success?
A: Here’s a great story about the benefits of networking with those younger than you, too! It also ties in with mentorship: Last summer, I spoke at a student conference in New York City, where a 17-year-old high school student, named Opal Vadhan, approached me after hearing me talk about She’s the First. She later interviewed me for her blog and applied to be a GIRLS WHO ROCK volunteer. My co-founder Cynthia Hellen decided to give her a shot, even though she would be the youngest member on the team. Opal, who says her parents do not encourage her interests, now calls her GIRLS WHO ROCK team members the sisters she never had. Through the process, Opal learned how to be a skilled project manager for every aspect of producing not only a concert, but a movement for social change. “All of us are a part of changing these girls’ lives,” she texted us after the GIRLS WHO ROCK concert on June 10, 2011, referring to the girls in Uganda whom we are sponsoring, “and not only that, but you changed my life…They say people come into your life to teach you a lesson, but you’ve all taught me so many!”
Q: What do you feel separates your brand from your competitors?
A: I never imagined that the meaning of being a “first” would resonate so deeply with young women and take on a life of its own. The definition of the word “first” doesn’t represent an individual achievement but a collective movement. It provides a sense of purpose and gives a voice to those who need to be reminded of it. Shortly after launching the program, young women contacted us online about wanting to host fundraisers. It soon became clear that beyond supporting girls education in the developing world, She’s the First also has the unique opportunity to drive involvement, leadership and experience among students in the U.S., as students here have the opportunity to fundraise, sponsor and often visit their counterparts in various countries. She’s the First started as a piece of my heart, but before long, it became a fully-fledged, international network of students, educators, and volunteers, united in a common goal. More than 3,300 people show their support for She’s the First on Facebook, and more than 3,400 on Twitter—and growing each day.
Aside from the unique meaning of our brand, we are distinguished by our effective and natural use of social media to create measurable impact, our transparency, and our young leadership. Our leadership team is all under the age of 30.
Q: Do you (formally or informally) mentor anyone? If so, who and why is it rewarding?
A: Yes, I mentor many of the student leaders who support She’s the First & GIRLS WHO ROCK and also the recipients of the New York Women in Communications Foundation scholarships, which are awarded annually. I received two of these scholarships in 2005 and 2006 and New York Women in Communications members have become some of my greatest mentors, so I want to pay it forward. Mentoring is so rewarding, because you can also learn a lot from those younger than you, especially when it comes to the fast world of technology. Plus, you are only one person who can impact only so many people; if you empower others to succeed and then in turn, pay it forward and become mentors themselves, you’ve created an incredible ripple effect that will far exceed anything you are individually capable of.
ON Starting Out
Q: If you had a young sister or a daughter who was a senior in college, anxious about landing her first job or unsure of what she wanted to do, what would your advice be to her?
A: Put all your energy into the universe, apply for everything that interests you, fire your own ideas out into the world, see what sticks! Things will fall into place as they should, and even if you don’t know how they will land right now, as long as you are always putting your best self forward, and expressing gratitude to those who help you along the way, you will be fine. But my first piece of tangible advice would be to have a mentor or two whom you can turn to, who believes in you, and who will give you the honest, uninhibited feedback that close friends or family might not be able to.
Q: What do you think is the key to happiness?
A: The key to happiness is having independence, and the freedom to pursue your passions and sustain your livelihood on them.
Q: What are you most passionate about, and how do you incorporate it into your career or everyday life?
A: I am most passionate about using social media to create social change, showing that online relationships can translate into meaningful offline impact.
ON Letting go
Q: What do you do to unwind or disconnect?
A: I love going on adventures with my roommate! Or the nights when we’re both home and have a spontaneous, simple night eating wine and cheese on the fire escape as we talk about all dimensions of life, relationships, and shaping our dreams.
ON Taking Risk
Q: Usually reaching something great or grand in life requires taking a risk. What has been your greatest risk so far and how was it rewarding?
A: Some would consider my decision to go freelance in my career a risk, but I think it’s exhilarating – I’ve put myself in a position to go in so many different directions across multiple industries, as opposed to climbing up a vertical ladder in one sector. I still work 40 hours a week, but I gave up some corporate perks and benefits to have the flexibility to grow She’s the First this year. I will see where it leads in 2012 as I continue to make more important, perhaps risky, but very tactful, decisions, to ensure that She’s the First and my leadership can be sustainable.
ON Taking Risk
Q: How do you overcome feelings of insecurity, fear or discomfort when deciding to take a risk?
A: I turn to my family, my closest friends, my mentors. I re-read pages in the journal I’ve kept since the end of senior year of college. I tend to write in it during those times when I’m feeling most fearful or insecure, so to look back on those situations in the past, and know how amazing things ultimately turned out, it helps me look at the present and realize that the future holds opportunities beyond any of my wildest dreams right now.
ON Time Management
Q: Online calendars, emailing ourselves, post-it notes… I’m still struggling to find the best way to manage my time and to do list? What’s your method?
A: I have an agenda pad where I record to-do lists under each day of the week (Post-Its get lost!)…my Google calendar and email reinforces the need to do those assignments, but there is something extra rewarding about writing and crossing off with pen and paper.
Q: Oprah has that great section in her magazine “What I know for sure.” What do you know for sure?
A: What I know for sure is that education is where all opportunity begins.
Q: What are the top 3 things that you do to stay healthy?
A: I have a membership at my local gym and start each morning doing the elliptical machine, bikes, and treadmill for an hour.
Q: What place in the world has the most sentimental value to you and why?
A: For me, that place is Monrovia, Liberia, since it’s where my whole “global awakening” began, where I first saw with my own eyes that there was a world directly opposite of the safe, comfortable suburbia of NJ where I grew up, that was even more dire than the struggling communities in the Trenton area surrounding my college campus. When I went to Liberia, first in December 2007, I didn’t just see despair – I saw hope in the community leaders. Under the presidency of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (the first female president in all of Africa!) there was an eagerness to replace a lost generation of youth with an educated one. At the time I was volunteering with a foundation that sponsored the education of abandoned children and orphans, and upon meeting our students and seeing how school was changing their lives, I wanted to do more. I returned to Liberia in December of 2009 and helped the foundation set up a feeding program and hold meetings with the parent/guardians of the children, as it is so vital to empower the communities in which these children grow and learn to be their mentors. While She’s the First does not yet have a partner program in Liberia, hopefully someday we will, and I do wish to visit again.
Q: In the world, what are your three favorite restaurants?
A: Hummus Place, Swedish meatballs at AQ Kafe, Applebee’s when I’m with my family!
ON Cooking & Food
Q: If you love to cook, can you share a favorite recipe?
A: I don’t cook at all, but I LOVE hummus! I think that’s one of my trademarks.
Q: Which book(s) has had the most significant impact on your life and why?
A: It’s totally cheesy but “Eat, Pray, Love” – which I read on my first trip to Liberia, so it ties into my answer above – was a memorable one to me, in terms of celebrating the rebirth that you can have in each phase of your life, exploring the world, and finding inner peace. This is a difficult question because I always used to answer “Three Cups of Tea” or “Stones Into Schools” by Greg Mortensen, but those books have come under some controversy earlier this year, due to the lack of full transparency in Mortensen’s non-profit, the Central Asia Institute. However, I think the books genuinely express the dire need for girls’ education in the developing world, especially the Middle East, and the extreme importance in empowering local communities to build and support these schools, so they are still very special to me. And of course, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book “Half the Sky” is pretty much the equivalent of the Bible in the world of girls’ education and women’s rights. The research and anecdotes they share justify girls’ education as the cause of our time.
Q: If you were to write a book, what would it be about?
A: It would be a book for girls 17-21, I joke it would be called “Rock the Prom, Rock the World”—but who knows, maybe it really will be!—non-fiction, and made e-book friendly. The title is a play on how I ironically began my career as a prom web site editor (considering I was way shy and uncool in high school to warrant going to my own prom, or any dance for that matter!), but in launching Hearst magazines’ prom website for Seventeen, CosmoGIRL, and Teen, and then the Ultimate Prom video/contest franchise, and the charitable DonateMyDress.org campaign, I learned how prom was about instilling confidence in a girl and celebrating her four years of academic achievement with friends, before they all went off to college. They are at that amazing tipping point of beginning their independent lives, and if you challenge them to think globally, act locally, inspire them to incorporate social change into their social lives, you can put them on a lifelong trajectory to change the world.
Q: What are the beauty items you could not live without?
A: Hard Candy under-eye concealer (I lack a lot of sleep!), Victoria Secret Beauty lip gloss, moisturizer with SPF.