Hey, it’s Marie Forleo and you are watching MarieTV, the place to be to create a business and a life that you love. And one of the things that we’re really passionate about here on MarieTV and in our company is paying it forward and doing whatever we can to use our resources and this platform to help create opportunities for others. And this year we got the chance to work with a fantastic organization that’s run by an incredible woman that I really want you to meet.
Tammy Tibbetts is the founder and president of She’s the First, a nonprofit that sponsors girls education in the developing world so that these girls can be the first in their families to graduate from high school. The organization also has an extensive network of campus chapters all over the United States raising funds and awareness. Tammy, a fellow Jersey girl, who herself was the first in her family to graduate from college was recognized as a Diane von Furstenberg People’s Voice award winner, on the 30 under 30 list of Time and Forbes, and as a member of fast company’s most creative people in business 1000. However, what she’s most proud of is that in 5 short years She’s the First has funded more than 1,000 years of education for 400 scholars and has 117 amazing campus chapters.
Tammy, thank you so much for being here.
Oh, it’s such a joy. Thank you.
So I wanna talk about your evolution. You went from prom dresses to global education for girls. How did this all come about?
Yeah, that’s so funny because I didn’t even go to my own high school prom and yet I ironically began my career working in digital media for Seventeen, an amazing brand, and I was a prom website editor who was volunteering on the side for an organization that was sending girls to school in Liberia. And I got involved in that through being a journalism student. It was a story I had written about and then turned in the assignment and had to do something about helping. So here I was by day in the office as a prom website editor, by night and weekends volunteering to help more girls go to school. And the skills in using web and social media to reach teenage girls helping them get ready for prom mixed with what I was doing as a volunteer and that’s when the lightbulb went off and I realized I could do this and use that technology and those skills to help send girls to school and activate this audience of young women who are able to follow their dreams here in the US and want to see every girl around the world have that opportunity.
Did you ever dream that you were gonna start your own for purpose not for profit business?
No, not at all. I actually started She’s the First as a YouTube video, which is why I’m so thrilled that this is going to be on YouTube. It’s like full circle. I had an idea to get this mission of sponsoring girls education so they could be the first in their families to graduate from high school out in the world and I thought what better way to do it to my generation than through social media? And that was what sparked all the offline action and the partnerships that turned She’s the First into a nonprofit organization and really a huge movement 5 years down the road.
So incredible. I read that early on, you know, you saw this article written by an African newspaper about teenage motherhood and it got you really fired up. And you posted something about it on Facebook. And so many people will post things on Facebook that either irritates them or they wanna take action on, and I know that was a trigger point for you for the organization really growing. Tell us, what was different about that post and what happened?
Yeah, when I posted that article, it was really misjudging girls who were becoming pregnant as teenagers and not acknowledging that they weren’t being given the resources or the education to prevent that. So I posted it on Facebook and I said, “I have an idea. I want to create a PSA campaign called She’s the First. Does anyone want to help me?” I asked for help. And it was Kristen Brandt, who is now our cofounder, our director of international operations, we had met through a scholarship program, we received scholarships for college, and connected at the awards ceremony through Facebook. And we hadn’t seen each other since then, but she saw that post and had a huge passion for international affairs and she was the only person who messaged me privately and said, “Tammy, I want to be a part of this.” So it only takes one person to step up and be the first follower. And now she… She’s the First it would not be what it is today without her collaboration.
And did you feel initially when you got that private message and you guys had a chance to connect, was there like a soul connection between you two like, “We really wanna work together.” Did you know it pretty quickly?
Oh, yeah. She was interning in Washington DC at the time so I took a bus and we met and we just… we kept adding on each other’s ideas. As people we also have such different personalities, and I think… and expertise as well. So when you magically find that person to be a partner in your idea and you both bring different things to the table, that’s where the magic happens.
So exciting. Now, I know you had kept working as an editor and you started She’s the First as a PSA and as a movement and then it started to grow. When you finally made the choice to say, “Ok, I’m kind of done with my other side gigs. I’m doing this full time,” I think that’s something that’s really scary, it was scary for me when I let go of bartending and fitness and dance and said, “I’m just gonna work on my online business and that’s all I’m gonna do.” What’d you have to change whether it was practically, like shifting around money or did you have to save a bunch of money or time management or even in the way you were thinking to say, “Ok, this is my full time gig. This is what I’m doing all the time.” What were… how did you make that leap?
There were a couple of factors that looking back that I started that… things I started doing right out of college when I started my career that helped make that big leap a lot easier. Even though I could’ve never seen that that would happen in the future. One, when I started working at a big corporation, I became an intrepreneur within the company. So I was able to kind of apply the skills of starting things with the resources of a big company into starting something on the side with really no resources. And two, because the nature of my job was social media. I was the first social media editor for Seventeen. And that enabled me to have a very flexible schedule. And because my bosses trusted me and the projects I had launched successfully, I could set my own schedule as long as I delivered on growing the social media following, engaging with our readers, which often times didn’t happen during the 9 to 5 schedule anyways. It was early in the mornings or late at night and on the weekends. I was able to still get a paycheck from the day job but if I had to step out for a couple of hours in the afternoon to take a meeting with a potential funder, I could do that. So I found that middle road before I made the actual leap in going into She’s the First full time. And at that point I had a couple of funders who believed in the vision and put money towards salary and operations.
Was it still scary? Like when you finally decided and said, “Ok, I’m gonna give my notice and I’m gonna do this full time.” Did you have those little butterflies?
I did, but I always knew that there would be a safety net under me. I was successful in what I did and if for whatever reason She’s the First was not meant to be as big as I thought it could be, someone would hire me and give me a job back in that industry. And when I think of our scholars, there is no plan B for them. Giving them a sponsorship, that’s their one ticket out of poverty to a better life. So I was willing to take the risk knowing that there would be a fallback for me, whatever I did. But for… there was a greater reason to take this chance.
Yeah. I love that, it’s so beautiful, and I so resonate with what you shared because I felt like when I was starting my business if just everything failed, I fell flat on my face, I put myself through school bartending. So I was like, “You know what? I bet you I could get another bar job if I really had to in order to, you know, keep a roof over my head and food on the table, but I’ve really got to go for this.” Thanks for sharing that. I read that you have this theory that if you genuinely need something and tell enough people about it, eventually it will find you. How’s that been true for you?
Part… it goes back to social media again. I’m really transparent about what the needs of She’s the First are. And I think a lot of people are afraid to show others that they don’t have it all together. And I feel like I have a plan, I have a strategy, but there are times like earlier this year where we needed a new office. And I just put it out there to everyone that I knew and then I got a lead for a new pro bono office that we’re moving to in January. And if I would’ve just kind of kept it secret that, you know, “I don’t have an office for She’s the First. What am I going to do? I need to figure this out on my own,” I would’ve never found this opportunity.
That’s so admirable because I can certainly relate to that, this idea that it’s like you have to know everything that you’re doing and if you ask for help I’m sure you look weak or something like that. And I love that you really have taken that and flipped it on its head. And congratulations on your new space.
Oh, thank you.
One of the other things I love about your organization and that really resonated for me and for us as a company, I mean, we are so about women and girls education. We’re sponsoring 9 scholars thanks to you. I love that you connect individually donors with the scholars and it feels like there’s such a personal relationship that happens. It’s smart, it’s strategic. Was that a decision that happened all the way from the beginning? Was it a strategic decision, a heart decision? Tell us a little more about that.
Yes, doing the one to one matching was a decision from when we were a YouTube video, and I believe in it so much because I think it changes the relationship where this isn’t… I don’t think if She’s the First, although we are a nonprofit. That’s our tax status with the IRS, we do not see ourselves as a charity. And our scholars are not beneficiaries any more than we are as donors. And it’s a real collaboration. And when you can have that dialogue, we allow our sponsors to write letters, send letters to our scholars if they would like to, and then they get letters back and it becomes a conversation. Because everyone who’s a part of this, whether they’re receiving the scholarship or they’re raising the funds to send a girl to school. Everyone’s working towards the same vision of universal secondary education and contributing what they can at this moment.
It’s really beautiful. Let’s talk about too how the community really helps because one of the things I learned when I came to the amazing mentor breakfast that you guys held, which I loved this year. It was so inspiring. Was about the chapter communities. Tell us more about that and how did that evolve in She’s the First?
Yes, the campus chapters, they’re the heart of She’s the First that’s beating here every day in the United States and I see their posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter every day and that’s such a huge motivation for me.
What are the chapter…?
The chapters are in high schools, colleges, and universities across the United States. They are self started by students who they establish it as a club. So they have little executive boards, they do fundraisers, they host documentary screenings. So they’re driving a conversation about how will we achieve universal education in our lifetime? And it started because at the time when Kristen started collaborating with me, she was in her senior year at Syracuse University. So her friends wanted to do something and they started the first chapter. And then of course they shared what they did online and then other students replicated it. And as this was happening I started to see that students were gaining leadership skills, that they weren’t through other extracurricular activities. And that’s where I saw the opportunity for the campus chapters to be a program where they’re raising the funds that send girls to school and that sets off its own, you know, domino effect of positive benefits. But in the process they’re becoming leaders and that’s a lifelong commitment that they’re making to philanthropy and to being global citizens.
One of the most striking pieces to your story for me was the fact that you shared in high school you were voted most shy. And what I love about you is you’re such an eloquent speaker, you’re so powerful, you’re so in your strength but also in this receptivity place that I’m… I just personally am so drawn to about you. Tell us a little bit about for the people in our audience who might feel, you know what, I’m not this crazy, boisterous, outgoing person but I really wanna make a difference in the world. And I think what you’ve created is so extraordinary. The lives you’ve touched. I mean, your impact in 5 years. How many hours of education or years of education?
Over a thousand years of education funded.
A thousand years of education funded. It’s really extraordinary. So any advice or any secrets that you wanna share with our audience for people that wanna make an impact in some way?
Yeah, that… people don’t believe me when I say that I was voted most shy, but I have the yearbook to prove it. I can send you the picture. It was true, I… throughout all of my 13 years of public school with the same kids that’s what they remembered me by because I didn’t speak up. I was a good student but I was just too afraid to raise my hand. And when I realized that that was the legacy I left, I didn’t want to go through the rest of my life being remembered as shy. But I didn’t know what my message was to the world, so that’s why I became a journalist. I thought, “I can use my voice to tell other people’s stories,” and that work led me to She’s the First. But one of the things that I learned from that experience at 17 years old, which, by the way, I was then going to college to be the first in my family to graduate from college, was that most of the time we stand in our own way. And when you’re… our scholars have many other things standing in their way that are out of their control just by the birth lottery, but when you’re living here in the United States assuming that you have a roof over your head, food to eat, a lot of times it’s just you. And if you can move yourself out of the way, there’s no limit to what you can do for yourself and then for others.
Tammy, thank you so much for being here. Thank you for the work that you’re doing in the world. I am so honored to play a small part, we are so honored to be a part of your mission and we look forward to many, many, many years together. So for all of you watching right now, we’re gonna cut to a challenge in a moment. But if you wanna learn more about Tammy, you wanna get involved, we have all the information below and it’s one of the best organizations I’ve had the privilege to get to know. Tammy, thanks so much.
Now Tammy and I would love to hear from you. So as she talked about, all of us can get in our own way sometimes, so what’s one way that you get in your own way and how can you take an action step right now to just step outside of it? Or if you prefer, what’s the biggest single insight that you’re taking away from today’s interview? Now, as always, the best discussions happen after the episode over at MarieForleo.com, so come on over and leave a comment now.
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