Tammy Tibbetts, the co-founder of She’s the First (along with Christen Brandt), a nonprofit that provides scholarships for girls in underdeveloped and developed countries, wasn’t much of an orator during her school days. By her own admission, she never enjoyed speaking in class when she was in high school. “I was the hardest working, straight-A student you’d ever met,” she shared in an interview with LeanIn.org. “But I hated speaking up in class, so the toughest part was always earning my participation points. When I graduated 10 years ago, it was no surprise I won the title of ‘Most Shy’ in my yearbook.”
Tibbetts has come a long way with her nonprofit since then, She’s the First is doing important female-empowerment work around the world by providing girls with financial resources to attend school and achieve their dreams enjoying successful careers and being financially independent.
At 22, Tibbetts created a YouTube video with her peers called, ‘She’s the First,’ in which they talked about sponsoring girls’ education. The simple and solid message went viral. Tammy took her message to the younger generation when she became the first social media editor of Seventeen magazine and founded three profitable digital properties. At 23, she thought of a social media campaign to raise money for girls in developing countries and wrote about it on Facebook, where she found Brandt, who would become her partner on She’s the First (STF).
Their inaugural campaign was an astounding success, and the STF organization was officially born in 2009. Since then, the initiative has helped more than 1,000 girls get their start in life. “More than 66 million girls are out of school in the world with little chance of turning their dreams into a reality. But, when you give a girl the chance to learn, she’s unstoppable,” she told Lean In.
Tibbetts has expanded STF’s mandate to more than just getting formal education or producing good students – the organization believes in producing leaders and changemakers. She’s the First provides curriculum-based mentorship to students as well as other daily essentials like medication, healthy food, and school uniforms, as well as the opportunity to see a community project to its conclusion. Since starting She’s the First, Tammy has received numerous accolades, including being named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Education, Time magazine’s 30 Under 30 Changing the World in 2013, and one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in 2014.
Just last year Tibbetts was invited to her alma mater, The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), to be the Senior Class Speaker. She made an impassioned case for paying it forward and encouraged students to “ponder your purpose” in life. Tibbetts spotlighted several women whose educations She’s the First assisted in and underlined an important message for the graduates.
“Even if your purpose feels kinda vague, give yourself the space to think and talk about it,” she told the assembled students. “Tell people about what lights you up: stopping climate change; protecting women’s reproductive rights; fighting racial injustice. Or maybe you’re not even sure what issue pulls on you the most yet, but you know you want to feel connected to a movement, you want to leave the world better off than when you found it. Ponder your purpose. It’s the surest way to find it.”
Baiskahi Roy | Contributing Writer