TCNJ Grad Fights to Change the World for Girls in Developing Nations
Tammy Tibbetts, co-founder of the non-profit group "She's the First," needs help from the community to secure a $1 million grant to sponsor girls' education in developing countries.
As students advance through the school system, they will often hear clichés about how they can change the world peppered throughout lessons and graduation ceremonies.
Some may be inspired, while others roll their eyes at the thought of one person being able to actually make a difference in the world. But for Tammy Tibbetts, a 2003 graduate of South Brunswick High School, changing the world is about bringing myriad small acts together to cause a global shift in educational inequality.
Tibbetts, 26, is the co-founder and president of "She's the First," a New York-based non-profit that sponsors girls education in developing countries.
"These are girls who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford and complete a basic education," Tibbetts said. "What's unique is that we've been able to make a difference through the leadership and fundraising of students across the U.S., including South Brunswick High School and The College of New Jersey. Students have done bake sales and other creative things to raise money that helps students go to school around the world."
Following her graduation from The College of New Jersey, Tibbetts moved on to become a web editor with Seventeen Magazine, CosmoGIRL, and Teen, in addition to launching DonateMyDress.org, a group that provides a directory of organizations collecting and distributing prom dresses to the less fortunate.
After being inspired by an article about teen pregnancy in Liberia, Tibbetts realized there was a startling lack of awareness and programs that address educational opportunities for girls in developing countries. The United Nations estimates that two-thirds of the 130 million children worldwide who are not in school are female.
"There's a huge gender imbalance in primary schools," Tibbetts said. "In some places, when you go from elementary school and make the jump to secondary schools, there's a huge dropout rate. Only 33 percent of girls enroll in secondary school and only one in five girls graduate from high school."
Through the power of social media, Tibbetts connected with college student Christen Brandt, and together they launched "She's the First" in 2009. The organization seeks to empower American students by using innovative and creative means to raise funds that will provide tuition to females in developing regions, including India, Nepal, Guatemala, and regions in Africa. Tuition costs for these boarding schools range from just $300 to $1,500 per year, which has allowed small scale fundraisers like bake sales to have a huge impact.
The education of these young women is vital for reasons that go beyond inequality issues. "She's the First" states that research shows educating girls and enabling their participation in the workforce substantially increases a country’s economic output, as an extra year of primary school for females means they can earn 10 to 20 percent more, on average. In addition, "girls who are educated are more likely to marry later in life, bear fewer children, educate their own children, and be less vulnerable to sexual abuse and coerced sex."
Armed with extensive experience utilizing social media, Tibbetts began the organization as a grassroots campaign leaning on volunteers.
"I'm passionate about this age group and what we're able to do with our creativity," she said. "Small actions add up, and when merged with the skills we have in the media industry, it's created greater awareness for the millions of girls living in an unfortunate situation."
The organization now sponsors more than 300 girls across 8 countries and supports 40 campus chapters across the U.S.
"She's the First" has been recognized by Glamour on its 20th Annual Women of the Year Awards, as Tibbetts was also named one of Glamour's 20 Young Women who are Already Changing the World.
"We want to do our part one girl at a time to build strong communities and families. Young people are also learning how to be leaders in their own communities, whether it's in South Brunswick, New Jersey or Bangalore, India," Tibbetts said. "They're becoming global citizens with technology and social media in this exciting time we live in. They have a chance to collaborate with these young women who are our age and create solutions for a better world together. But if these young women aren't given the chance to go to school then that's not possible."
While previously existing largely on grassroots efforts, "She's the First" has a chance to make a substantial impact moving forward, as the organization is up for a $1 million dollar grant on NBC’s American Giving Awards, to be held on Dec. 8. The grant will be awarded based on Facebook voting from Nov. 27 through Dec. 4.
"To win our category of Educators and Mentors, we would receive at least $125,000, which would be transformative for an our organization of our size, which has proven to be so successful and resonates deeply," Tibbetts said. "We've had no resources and have used technology and volunteers to get this far. We would be able to have more campus chapters and raise more money. Plus it would put girls education on center stage, on prime time television. Millions of people who might not have considered girls around the world who haven't been given a chance will be exposed to this issue on NBC."
With voting lasting through Dec. 4, Tibbetts is hopeful the social media power of "She's the First," in addition to support from her hometown, will enable the organization to bring about realistic change throughout the world for millions of women in need of an opportunity so often taken for granted in the U.S.
"The importance of the hometown vote and our great social media support is huge," Tibbetts said. "We're proud of the work we've done. It would mean so much to have the central Jersey and South Brunswick community be a part of this with me."
Click here to cast a Facebook vote for "She's The First" to win a $1 million grant from the American Giving Awards.
Click here to learn more about "She's the First."