CAREER FILES
Giving Back

A series spotlighting women with inspiring careers – who also happen to have great style.

 

In the age of me, me, me, the notion of being others-centric can feel somewhat extinct. However, there are many incredible women putting their social conscience to work around the world. Here, Tatiana Hambro meets four of them striving to do everything from end global poverty to clean up the planet’s oceans.

THE VISIONARY

Leila Janah

“It’s a common myth that nonprofits can’t earn revenue. We’re actually on track to reach $15M by the end of 2017,” says Leila Janah, the whip-smart Harvard-educated founder of Samasource. “I started working around fifteen years old, so I learned the power of a paycheck early on.” Behind her company, founded in 2008, is the belief that the solution to global poverty lies in job creation. Based in San Francisco, Samasource’s "Give Work" projects, which offer on-the-ground training within the world’s poorest communities, function under a groundbreaking new model. “In the industrial era, capital could move freely across borders, but labor could not. The digital economy circumvents this, allowing people to transcend the geography of their origin and do work from computer centers all over the world.” (So far, it’s impacted the lives of over 60,000 people globally.) For the LA-raised Janah helping people has always been a priority. While in high school, she worked with Amnesty International and, at age sixteen, won a $10,000 award for community service—which she used to travel to Ghana and teach English to blind children. “I initially wanted to join the Peace Corps” she says, “but I was too young.”

What did you want to be "when you grew up"?
I knew from an early age I wanted to dedicate my career to social justice. I wasn’t quite sure what form that would take exactly, but my family was always on the front lines of advocating for human rights.

 

What do you love most about your job?
We’ve now seen first-hand that giving work is good for society, as it addresses poverty at the root, and for business, as Samasource recently became self-sustainable off of earned revenue this past year.

 

What was the best advice you ever received?
My grandmother once told me simply to, “Trust the world.”

 

What would you advise someone today?
Entrepreneurship is hard. It’s so easy to give up and go do something else, to go back to a big company and make a lot of money instead of scraping by to get your idea off the ground. My advice is to not quit. It’s the most unspoken quality but by far the most important.

 

How would you describe your personal style?
I travel a lot so classic black pieces are essential. I also like to throw in a funky piece of jewelry or colorful print I’ve collected from somewhere I’ve visited to mix it up. Lipstick goes a long way, too.

 

Do people “get” your job?
In the beginning, I think most people would say I was crazy–now, social business is becoming more talked about.

 

Describe 3 characteristics required to do your job well.
The three I focus on are grit, grace and optimism.

 

How do you define success?
I count every person we move through one of our programs, and every company we sign as a customer a huge success. It shows we’re onto something, that this model is working and that we should keep going.

THE ADVOCATE

Jodie Patterson

It's a fact that about 50% of transgender teens attempt suicide. “I would do anything for Penelope not to be suicidal, or chronically depressed, or chronically sad, or chronically scared,” says Jodie Patterson of her second youngest child (of five). The New York-born mother of five and beauty entrepreneur never thought she’d be fighting for transgender rights, but when her young daughter turned to her and said, “Mama, I don’t feel like a boy, I am a boy,” she found the opportunity staring her right in the face. Penelope, now 10, has lived the majority of his life as a trans male, supported by Patterson’s efforts in protecting the bodies and freedoms of the LGBQTIA community. “At first it was personal," she explains. "I would talk about gender rights safely at home. And then it was friends, and then school. I slowly expanded as Penelope moved out into the world.” Patterson's first book, entitled The Bold World, comes out next year and builds of this direct experience. Today, she devotes most of her time to politics, organizing conferences and lobbying for protective legislation. "Trans kids are bullied and kicked out of homes and churches and bathrooms so often that their identity is denied," she says. "And when you deny someone’s identity, you’re inviting death."

How did you get your start?
My first job was in book publishing—it’s the only job I’ve ever applied for. The rest I fell into.

 

As a child, what did you want to be "when you grew up"?
I thought I might be a teacher, then it was a business woman in a fancy Donna Karan suit and heels sitting in a corner office. I’ve always wanted to be a mother.

 

What do you dislike about your job?
Sometimes when I read the negative comments online about me, about my views and my family they make me sad. I read them because it’s important to know where the gaps are between people so we can try and bridge them.

 

What would you advise someone today?
Spend time observing the world. Take years being a voyeur. Always journal your thoughts and observations. They will help you form opinions, over and over again. Spend the second half of your life being flexible and shifting.

 

How would you describe your personal style?
I like either very feminine looks with embellishments, fancy collars and lace or I like masculine looks with monochromatic simplicity. I can also really get into a great, Annie Hall–Diane Keaton look. Hats are essential and gold is my favorite accessory.

 

Is there a key piece in your closet that you wear to work?
Jumpsuits: I have ten in current rotation. And blazers—mostly navy blue are my best go-tos. I can wear them in any season and to any meeting. Love.

 

Describe a characteristic required to do your job well.
Finds extreme gratification in words and stories.

 

What is your greatest achievement to date?
Hands down, raising my five children. And a close second is straightening my teeth. And a close third is falling in love like it was new each and every time.

THE PHILANTHROPIST

Brooke Garber Neidich

“Jail—that’s America’s biggest mental health facility,” says Garber Neidich. The New York resident co-founded (alongside renowned clinician Dr Harold Koplewicz) the Child Mind Institute in 2008 (the same year she inherited her father’s jewelry business, Sidney Garber) to support the underserved and still-stigmatized field of mental illness. “It shouldn’t be any different from physical illness. It should just be illness. Period.” She points out, “There are 8,500 child psychologists in America and over 17 million children at risk. Who is taking care of them?” Garber Niedich, who’s married to real estate investor and former Goldman Sachs partner Daniel Neidich, is known for donating huge sums of money to charity, but her evident passion, drive and creativity enable her to raise huge sums of money, too. Take her very first venture, an informal auction for her son’s preschool staged in the gymnasium, which made $52,000—almost four times the expected figure. “I thought we could do better than $15k” she recalls, “though I had no idea how much.” Today, she raises funds well into six figures. And beyond the CMI, her efforts are primarily directed towards the Whitney Museum and the Lincoln Centre Theatre (she is a trustee of both). “I think the arts change lives," she says. "I certainly find if I have a crummy day I can walk into the Whitney and I’m out of myself. It’s an extraordinary gift.”

What did you want to be "when you grew up"?
An actress and a wife and a mother. I dated a talented actor in college and watching him I realized I had no talent. The wife part I did until I got it right—luckily the mother part followed.

 

What do you love most about your job?
The creativity.

 

What do you dislike about your job?
The constraints—but at the same time I am grateful for them. I did an interview for WSJ Magazine and said I was committed to giving away my profits. My accountant read it and called me, horrified. He said, "Brooke, you have NO profits!" [Sidney Garber is now profitable, and Garber Neidich donates all profits to charity].

 

What was the best advice you ever received?
Never tell a white lie.

 

What would you advise someone today?
Nothing, nothing, nothing substitutes for hard work.

 

How would you describe your personal style?
I try to be elegant but a bit bohemian. I still love the ‘70s. Usually I am rushing so I toss on The Row black leather pants, a black silk shirt and a black vintage Chanel blazer. Then, of course, jewelry. I always wear my stack of bracelets, my large hoops and pearls.

 

Describe 3 characteristics required to do your job well.
I am a perfectionist, I am driven and I mostly understand what jewelry women want to wear.

 

What is your greatest achievement to date?
My marriage and my children—I share this achievement with Daniel.

 

How do you define success?
I am grateful I have had the opportunity to make a difference with the Child Mind Institute, and with the Whitney. I like being productive. I wake up happy and I married someone who wakes up happy.

THE GLOBAL CRUSADER

Emily Penn

Having sailed 60,000 nautical miles (that’s equivalent to almost three times around the globe), 30-year-old Emily Penn has seen more of the world that most do in a lifetime. The British-born activist spent her twenties aboard a biofueled boat, stopping off at remote islands in the South Pacific to conduct scientific research on ocean pollution and plastic. “It may look like paradise," she concedes, “but they’re running out of local resources.” Soil unsuitable for farming (it’s become too salty from rising sea levels) and commercial fishing has forced locals to rely on imported food. “That food is all packaged in plastic—and there’s nowhere for that plastic to go,” she explains. Penn’s latest project, a series of all-women voyages named eXXpedition, looks specifically at how invisible pollution—“it’s a fine soup of micro plastics and chemicals that cover the whole surface of our planet”—harms oceans and the female body alike. “For us girls it’s really bad news, especially during pregnancy,” she explains. (Her own blood tested positive for 29 of 35 toxic chemicals banned by the US.) “The only way to get rid of them is passing them on during child birth and breast feeding. The issue is a particularly important one for women.”

What do you do?
I’m an ocean advocate and skipper, and have spent the last decade exploring plastic pollution from the tropics to the Arctic.

 

How did you get your start?
I was looking for a way to hitchhike to a new job in Australia without taking an airplane, and ended up taking the biofuelled Earthrace boat around the world which opened my eyes to what’s going on in our ocean.

 

What did you want to be "when you grew up"?
A scuba diver.

 

What do you love most about your job?
The amazing people I get to spend my time with—either at sea under a starry sky or meeting inspiring change-makers at events.

 

What do you dislike about your job?
Being away from home a little too often.

 

What would you advise someone today?
Figure out what you have to offer. What skill do you have that you can trade for amazing experiences that get you where you want to be?

 

How would you describe your personal style?
Monochrome with a flash of color. And I’m one of those people who has a "summer outfit" and a "winter outfit", and wears exactly the same thing every day.

 

** Do people “get” your job?**
On Instagram it might look like I’m always on holiday as I get to hang out in some beautiful parts of the world, but actually we’re always working very hard and come home exhausted!

 

Describe 3 characteristics required to do your job well.
Great communicator, good with people, can see the big picture.

 

What is your greatest achievement to date?
Addressing royalty and the United Nations on the state of our ocean.

 

How do you define success?
Waking up every morning excited to jump out of bed to start living another purposeful day.