College of New Jersey- Major, Journalism + Minors, Women's and Gender Studies + Spanish
Tammy Tibbetts is the president and founder of She’s the First, a media campaign that’s focused on promoting the importance of educating girls who would otherwise not have the opportunity to go to school and receive an eduction. The site, which launched in November 2009, has one dream: to give every girl and woman the courage and support to pursue a chosen dream that fulfills her personally and improves the world around her, even if she is the first to prove it can be done.
Tammy’s position is volunteer, and she devotes her early mornings, nights and weekends to growing She’s the First. To pay the bills and develop her skills, she also holds a day job as social media specialist of the NYC Social Sports Club. Previously Tammy was director of the MacDella Cooper Foundation, which supports the education of abandoned children and orphans in Liberia. She also was a Web editor at Hearst Digital Media where she launched the charitable DonateMyDress.org network, the Ultimate Prom Franchise and MisQuinceMag.com.
Anything you do for fun also can have a meaningful impact on others, and the world, if you want it to.
How did you discover your current job?
I never set out with the objective of starting a nonprofit or a movement like She’s the First -- it developed organically, while I was busy concentrating on other things. In one of those ah-ha moments, I thought, what would happen if the style and structure of the campaign that I launched for Hearst Magazines called DonateMyDress.org (it was a directory of prom dress drives) merged with the cause of education for girls in the developing world? There is a tremendous need to address this issue.
Worldwide, nearly 1 billion people have had no schooling or they have left school after less than four years. Nearly two thirds are women and girls. I was running the sponsorship program for the MacDella Cooper Foundation, serving children in Liberia, at the time, and after my first trip to Liberia in December 2007, I saw what a transformative impact an education could have on a child and how it created so much opportunity for the future, the only hope of breaking the poverty cycle. I wanted to deliver a call to action to a young donor base who may only be able to afford $5 here, $20 there, but who have such a vast network, especially on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, that we can combine all these small donations into a large impact. The name She’s the First came about when we thought about how education enables a girl to break barriers, set a new precedent -- and most of the girls we are sponsoring through She’s the First will be the first in their families to graduate and hopefully go to college.
What has been your path so far to get you where you are today?
Although my college experience in journalism was very focused on print newspapers and magazines, after I graduated, I landed a position as assistant to the director of content at Hearst Digital Media, and then I never looked back on a career in print. Digital media is a fascinating, multiplatform, ever-evolving business, and it was the perfect place to start my career in 2007. After launching three teen websites and the Ultimate Prom franchise for Seventeen, I recently decided to jump over to a small business to pilot their social media strategy and grow their digital presence. All of these skills have parlayed into my “other life” outside the office, in the nonprofit world.
My passion for social entrepreneurship and global projects such as She’s the First started when I did a reporting assignment on the MacDella Cooper Foundation in my senior year of college. I learned so much about Liberia, and that is really what started my interest in exploring the ways girls live and learn around the world. Ultimately, I wanted to use my digital media skills to help solve the problems and achieve the visions expressed in the mission statements of international non-profits.
Was there any one situation that helped you along your way?
No, every experience is like a little piece in the whole puzzle that I’m still trying to put together … but of course there are some moments that stand out more than others. One vivid memory in the early days of She’s the First was last summer, when a group of about seven young women gathered in my apartment, without air conditioning, on one of the hottest nights of the year. It was our first formal meeting to discuss the mission and vision statements of She’s the First, and the concept for what our first PSA video would be (you can now watch it on our below). But I think it’s an important moment because it validates what one of my favorite quotes by Margaret Meade is all about: “Never underestimate the ability of a small group of committed individuals to change the world. Indeed, they are the only ones who ever have.” She’s the First is not my project -- it’s been a team effort since the beginning, and I am so proud to be just a little part of its growing momentum.
What is your typical day like? Does it ever change?
For the most part, I wake up very early -- like 6:15 or 6:30 a.m. -- squeeze in some e-mails, go to work (and keep responding/writing to e-mails on the subway), then I work a full eight-hour day, and I would say I usually have one or two nights free after work to go home and do She’s the First work at the computer. Another one or two nights are dedicated to in-person meetings or events related to She’s the First development or networking, and then one night a week, and one night a weekend are usually just pure fun, no work. I go to bed close to midnight, so during the week I don’t really get as much sleep as I should, but I run on caffeine and then try to catch up on the weekends. Not ideal, but it’s the way I work!
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I love running She’s the First’s Twitter account. I have met so many incredibly smart women offline in New York City who I first found through our Twitter. One such Twitter follower, Cynthia Hellen, even became the co-founder of our GIRLS WHO ROCK benefit concert, a board member, and co-pilot in STF’s new travel series that started off in Peru this summer, called She’s the First 360. I love it when I see mentions of @shesthefirst in the Twitterverse from people I don’t know, because it shows that the movement is expanding beyond personal networks and taking on a life of her own.
What is the most challenging part?
Not having enough hours in the day! Everyone on our team either has a full-time job or is a full-time student. But we try not to focus on the challenges and instead look at how fortunate we are to have access to so many wonderful companies and professionals who provide pro bono services, to have technology like Skype so we can communicate with one another easily and to have the most wonderful mentors on our Board and Advisory Panel guiding us through the early stages of our growth.
What is one lesson you’ve learned in your job that sticks with you?
I’ve learned the importance of expressing gratitude and nurturing a team -- take the time to send morale-boosting e-mails, birthday greetings, thank you notes (by snail mail, too). Let people know how much you appreciate them. It goes a long way.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge for women today, particularly females in your industry?
Hmm … it’s hard to say because I don’t face any specific challenges that I would attribute to being a woman. But I suppose what first comes to mind in the realm of international nonprofits, when traveling to visit countries where our partner programs work, we have to be extra cautious about our safety.
Who are your role models?
I have many, but I often refer to Ruth Whitney, the legendary editor-in-chief of Glamour magazine as a huge one, and here’s a Huffington Post article I wrote explaining why.
Is there a quote or mantra that you live by?
Yes, “style and substance” is my overarching mantra, and I guess you could say my signature one is “rock the prom, rock the world,” which I started saying when I was juggling my non-profit passions with my job as editor of the prom site for Seventeen and DonateMyDress.org. (Here’s a Huffington Post article I wrote about it at the time.) It means that anything you do for fun also can have a meaningful impact on others and the world if you want it to.
What advice do you have for girls who want to be in your industry?
Surround yourself with smart, inspiring people -- peers, students who are younger than you and professionals who are older and wiser.