Christen Brandt '10
Global Reach for Girls' Education
As an English major in the College of Arts and Sciences and a Newhouse student studying magazine journalism, Christen Brandt devoted her time at SU to learning to tell stories with excellence. Six years later, as co-founder and chief programs officer at a nonprofit organization called She’s the First, Brandt is giving her all to helping transform the life stories of girls around the world. She’s the First provides scholarships to girls in low-income countries toward the goal of creating first-generation graduates and future global leaders, and works with international partners to ensure their success, both during and after their school years. “The cause of girls’ education is the most logical thing in the world to me,” says Brandt, who directs the organization’s international efforts, from developing partnerships and establishing sponsorships to overseeing donor relations and storytelling, including producing short documentaries. “You can’t create change in the world if only half the population is participating in it. This is the place you need to start. And I’m going to do my part to make that happen.”
Brandt joined with co-founder Tammy Tibbetts to launch the organization in 2009 while still a student, happy for the opportunity to combine her writing skills with a growing interest in women’s issues. The two met through New York Women in Communications and connected in Washington, D.C., during the summer before Brandt’s junior year. “It started out as a media campaign,” says Brandt, a self-defense instructor who held positions at Parents and Glamour magazines before shifting careers to embrace a full-time role with She’s the First in 2012. “It was a side project to fill in the hole that we saw in the market between all these amazing organizations doing fantastic work for girls on the ground, and professionals our age who wanted to get involved, but didn’t know where to start. We wanted to give them a platform to figure that out.”
Growth came quickly for the organization, which has helped 805 scholars in 11 nations obtain 2,214 years of education. Last year, She’s the First achieved a major financial milestone, raising $1 million. It has also established more than 225 campus chapters at high schools and universities—the first at SU—primarily in the United States, but with a growing international reach. The campus chapters focus on advocacy, awareness, and fundraising. “It’s important to us that our students learn to be informed advocates—that they have the right language and tools to understand issues affecting women and girls across the world, and how these issues affect the girls who receive our scholarships,” says Brandt, who was recognized by Women’s eNews among its 21 Women Leaders for the 21st Century. She also received a United Nations Torino Leadership Award in 2014 and was selected as a 2014 Laureate Global Fellow by the International Youth Foundation Youth Action Network.
The organization’s goal is to award 10,000 scholarships and to be on 500 college campuses by 2020. “Ultimately, we aim to put ourselves out of a job. We want to see a world where every girl has access to not just quality education, but all the tools she needs to be successful, no matter where she lives or where she grows up,” says Brandt, who was recently named to the Newhouse 44, an alumni group that mentors undergraduates. “Women and girls deserve better. And it’s up to us to make a difference.” —Amy Speach