If It Doesn’t Work, Shout Louder

Nearly one year ago, a teenage girl was shot by gunmen for defying a Taliban campaign to close schools in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. Her name is Malala Yousafzai.

The gunshot wound did not stop her from traveling around the world and advocating for girls’ education, though. Her story inspired millions, and in the past year she spoke at the United Nations (on her 16th birthday), was a runner-up for Time’s Person of the Year and was honored by dozens of organizations for her tireless work on behalf of children’s education.

“I want to speak up for my rights,” she told the BBC on Monday. “And I also didn’t want my future to be just sitting in a room and be imprisoned in my four walls and just cooking and giving birth to children. I didn’t want to see my life in that way.” In her recently released autobiographyI Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, she writes, “I was spared for a reason: to use my life for helping people.” She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her commitment to educating the girls of her country, a country threatened by insurgencies and an economic crisis.

But Malala’s vision to achieve peace through human development and dialogue is not hers alone; it’s a vision shared by thousands around the globe, particularly the youth. She represents the millennial generation, one filled with hope and optimism in spite of the many global crises that challenge us. As a millennial, I believe our generation is profoundly affecting politics, media, business and activism. We see ourselves as integrated in the world, in our own communities.

At last week’s opening ceremony of the One Young World summit in Johannesburg, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, and musician and philanthropist Sir Bob Geldof addressed fervent young leaders from 190 countries at FNB Stadium. “You are lucky to have been born in an age where what was impossible is becoming possible. Each one of you is capable of changing the world,” said Professor Yunus. About 1,250 of us attended the summit, the largest youth gathering of its kind, now in its fourth year.

As youth delegates, we discussed, debated and worked toward solutions on global issues such as gender equality and youth unemployment. A selection of global leaders from the worlds of business, finance, arts and society engaged with us, as our counselors. This year’s leaders—among them South African politician and former political prisoner Ahmed Kathrada and journalist and activist Fatima Bhutto—hosted speaking sessions and fielded questions on matters including human rights, sustainable development and global health.

Perhaps one of the most inspiring moments during the conference was a special session in which Kathrada and former South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, both counselors, and delegate Nobulalu Lali Dangazele shared personal insights about former South African President Nelson Mandela. Visibly emotional, Pienaar, who captained the South Africa Springboks to victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup, discussed Mandela’s humility and his deep compassion for people. “When he was released from Robben Island, he had forgiveness in his heart,” said Pienaar, with tears streaming down his face.

“When we came out of prison, everything was in white hands, everything,” recalled Kathrada, who was released a few months before Mandela. “The only way out was to work with our fellow past oppressors and work together to build one united nation.”

Lali Dangazele, a Mandela Rhodes Scholar, beautifully described Mandela as “a beacon of hope and light” and added how visionary he is: “What his mind allowed him to do is trek forward and see 1994. He didn’t give up on that vision.”

Along with my fellow millennial One Young World Ambassadors, I left South Africa with goals and ideas on my mind and a strong desire to make a lasting impact in my community. I learned that to be an effective leader and agent of change, I need to be humble, visionary and compassionate. I returned to the United States realizing I am part of a movement started by the Mandelas, Kathradas and other brilliant thinkers and leaders of a previous generation, and continued by the Malalas of ours.

As Bob Geldof said at the summit: “If it doesn’t work, shout louder.”

[photo: Jennifer Zahid Chowdhury]

Pittsburgh Shines Again

Although the Steelers are on the skids, the Pittsburgh office of Havas PR keeps scoring. Last Thursday, they won six Golden Triangles from the International Association of Business Communicators’ local chapter: two Awards of Excellence, for writing (a bylined article for Bayer MaterialScience) and media relations (for the One Young World summit in Pittsburgh last year), and four Awards of Honor, for poster design (the “Checklist for Access” for the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association), communication management (for One Young World), speech writing (Transitions Optical’s North America Marketing keynote at Transitions Academy) and employee/member communication (also for Transitions Optical, our 20th award for work for our longtime client in the past four years alone, for the “Vision and Values” statement we developed for the company).

A Person Is a Person Because of Other People*

I recently learned about the passing of one of my favorite college professors, Peter Juviler. Peter’s human rights lectures had an immense impact on the Barnard community and me personally. He believed in his students and encouraged us to think critically and with compassion. His enthusiasm for social justice and his passion for human decency inspired me to attend graduate school, study international human rights and pursue a career that advanced the common good.

I’ve been working in the human rights field for a long time. But it’s much more than “work.” Human rights shaped and defined me as an individual. Mark Twain wrote that “the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” I was born to serve humanity.

From documenting the voices of women’s rights advocates in Calcutta to raising awareness of global gender-based violence through the #VDAY campaign, the path I chose has led me to extraordinary people and opportunities.

One of these opportunities came along last month: Havas PR North America chose to sponsor me as a delegate for the 2013 One Young World (OYW) summit. Founded in 2009 by David Jones and Kate Robertson, OYW is a London-based charity that brings together youth from around the world, helping them make lasting connections to create positive change. Described by some as the “junior Davos,” OYW stages an annual summit to gather 1,300 future leaders from around 185 countries. The summit gives delegates the kind of media platform afforded ordinarily only to those who lead countries and corporations.

In a few days, I will leave for Johannesburg to attend the fourth summit. As part of the Havas Health and Havas PR delegation, my colleagues and I will participate in debates and formulate solutions for some of the world’s most pressing issues.

The chance to engage with more than 1,000 agents of change from around the world does not happen often. During the summit, my hope is to organize a session on using digital media to empower marginalized communities to fight for their human rights. The idea was inspired by the mission of Digital Democracy, an organization that works in 20-plus countries, strategically employing technology to enhance the work of its partners addressing human rights.

Many years ago, Peter reminded me that the cause of social justice is best served not outside the private sector but, whenever possible, in partnership with it. That counsel was life-changing.

After the summit, as a newly minted OYW Ambassador, I would like to return to Havas PR—which is already very focused on corporate social responsibility and pro bono work—and set about creating change from within, as many other ambassadors have managed to do in their own companies.

OYW Counselor Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu once said: “A person is a person through other persons. None of us comes into the world fully formed. We would not know how to think, or walk, or speak or behave as human beings unless we learned it from other human beings. We need other human beings in order to be human. I am because other people are.”

I am who I am because of Peter’s teachings. As I set forth on this incredible journey, I will keep him in my thoughts, as I always have.

*Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu. (Zulu proverb)

[photo: One Young World]

Pumped by Circumstance

Another successful summer intern class has graduated from @erwwpr after totally energizing our offices. In New York City, we salute Lauren Carson (St. Anselm), assigned to our consumer Buzz Group; Joshua Johnson (Penn State), who worked on consumer accounts; Ally Norton (Boston College) and Audrey Schnell (North Carolina), who worked with healthcare clients; and Kate Urbach (James Madison), assigned to new business and marketing. In Pittsburgh, Cassie Lenski (James Madison), Anne Merrick (Pitt), Shay Myrick (Point Park) and Alexandra Salerno (St. Bonaventure) were tasked with various projects to help promote One Young World, which is headed to Pittsburgh in October.

Drawing Lines

Some of you blog loyalists out there might remember my excitement at the prospect of working with so many talented women this summer, and that has indeed been one of the highlights of this job. In the United States, female leadership averages about 16 percent in every sector across the board. I had just finished my senior thesis about the dearth of female leaders in this country, so I was geekily interested in observing what made female leaders in general the exception, and what put some of them in the 16 percent.

In a December 2011 TED talk, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said that of the graduating seniors entering the workforce for the first time, 57 percent of young men negotiated their first salary. Seven percent of young women did this.

I thought this very interesting as a young person on the brink of entering the working world. My female peers are, generally speaking, both unaware of their own worth and unwilling to assert it. Attribute it to whatever you’d like, but women across the board are not comfortable with their own talent and abilities. In her TED talk, Sandberg goes on to cite how women, much more than men, underestimate their IQs, downplay their GPAs and attribute their success to others rather than their own “awesomeness.” At the heart of this, she determines, is that success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. It seems to me that in a world where women are literally pulled in so many directions, the only way to manage all this is by drawing lines in the sand, deciding who you are and unapologetically being that person.

The superwoman stereotype is perhaps the most damning of all, and it’s where a lot of these attitudes can be derived. It encompasses all areas of a woman’s life, sets the highest standards for everything from homemaking to professional success to body image, and consequently makes it impossible for her not to fail. Anne-Marie Slaughter poignantly and passionately addresses “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” in a six-page op-ed in this month’s Atlantic. She diverges and even openly disagrees with Sandberg on critical points, but she claims it is impossible to “have it all” at the same time. With Slaughter’s and Sandberg’s arguments in mind, women must stop spinning this narrative because it is just that: a narrative. Women must stop actually believing that they can have it all, must stop participating in it and, most critically, must stop projecting to other women that they are actually succeeding at it.

We have to stop being terrified of making choices, of saying no, of drawing clear lines and defining ourselves, because that is how we grow and actually begin to have it all, in the real, human sense. It is how we fill C-suite offices and how we truly liberate ourselves from manufactured and unchallenged archetypes of female happiness and success. It’s how we make room for ourselves, our daughters and our daughters’ daughters as CEOs, tenured professors, heads of surgery, managing partners, etc. And inconsequential as they might seem, every preface to a comment with “This might be really stupid, but…” or apologizing unnecessarily during a brainstorming session perpetuates these attitudes and reinforces that 16 percent.

At the beginning of my summer at @erwwpr, I made a conscious decision to be a sponge. I try to take in every last detail and habit of those older, more talented and more successful than I am. I observe them and watch how they balance their lives and schedules, how they handle themselves in meetings, how they treat their colleagues. The women here, truly PR professionals, are sharp, talented and poised. And as the summer comes to an end, I am preparing to wring myself out, grateful and appreciative to move on with the bits and pieces that complement me and that hopefully will contribute to my growing that 16 percent.

[photo: creativecommons.org/Benimoto]

Getting Back to Our Roots

Ribbons, ribbons and more ribbons! One of the goals for this internship was to have Pittsburghers sign 5,000 ribbons to display at the One Young World summit in October. This was to mimic the ribbon ceremony that One Young World does every year: At the summit, each delegate, ambassador and counselor signs a ribbon, then they tie them together to show unity. The 5,000 ribbons we get signed in Pittsburgh will be on display at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center as a symbol of welcome and support of the international community that will be here for the summit.

With the close of our internship drawing near, we realized that we still had about 4,000 ribbons left to be signed. We needed to get out into the city of Pittsburgh and do some old-fashioned grassroots labor.

The funny thing about grassroots events is that you really have to put all your inhibitions aside. Because you are basically bombarding people on the street to listen to you, you cannot second-guess yourself. Here are a few quick tips for when you are on the street:

  1. Know your elevator pitch. Make sure it is not too long and starts off with something that catches their attention.
  2. Don’t think, just do. We all know it’s awkward to approach people on the street, but the more you think about it, the less confident you feel.
  3. Talk to anyone who will listen. You might think you’ll know what kind of person will respond to your request, but I was sometimes surprised by who stopped to listen and sign a ribbon.
  4. Smile! The best thing you can do is to look enthusiastic, confident and friendly. People will be more likely to be excited about what you’re promoting if you are.

Although grassroots work might not be the most glamorous aspect of this job, it teaches you a lot about promotion and awareness marketing. The most valuable thing I learned from this experience is how to craft a message so that it grabs the attention of a passerby right off the bat.

[photo: Cassie Lenski]

Aren’t Internships Supposed to Open Doors?

Preparing to film the “Pittsburgh Welcomes One Young World” video, I decided I would get to work early one day last week.

I arrived at our office building, Starbucks in hand, and got into the elevator. Little did I know that my floor required an elevator key and that you cannot get to that floor unless you unlock the elevator. Normally, the first person to the office unlocks the elevator—and apparently that person is never an intern.

When I realized that clicking the “2” button eight million times would not get me to the second floor, the elevator doors were already closed. Thinking this wouldn’t be an issue, I pressed the “G” button since I was still on the ground floor. Nothing happened. Trying “Door open” didn’t work either. Slowly I became aware that I was stuck in my office elevator.

After calling the other interns and getting no response, and praying for someone to come to my rescue, I sat down with my coffee and tried to relax. Having a problem with closed spaces, I began trying techniques to help calm myself down. These techniques are great when you are trapped in an elevator—or for relaxing in general.

  1. Breathe. Take slow and deep breaths. This helps slow your heart rate and relax your muscles. It also helps you to not get lightheaded or get a headache.
  2. Listen to music. Thankfully, I had an iPod and could focus on music rather than my surroundings. Jazz and soft rock are great options (screamo music will probably make you feel more tense).
  3. Stay positive. It’s actually a great mantra for life. Think of things that make you happy or picture yourself somewhere else, a glass-half-full outlook. I was thinking how great a story this situation could turn into.

I wasn’t trapped in the elevator long. A nice man opened the doors only to find a girl in a suit sitting cross-legged on the elevator floor. I wish I had taken a picture of his face.

I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes about stress, from author and motivational speaker Bill Phillips: “Stress should be a powerful driving force, not an obstacle.” Even though I had a rough morning, I was then ready to tackle the One Young World video.

Sticky Notes: An Intern’s Guide to Prioritizing Life

In anything we do, I believe we begin as the underdog until we work hard to prove ourselves. To prove myself, over the past few years I have worked hard to maintain a consistent work schedule and use every second of time toward the success of my future. As I have come to my last stretch of higher education, however, I’ve questioned that decision.

How you choose to spend your time reflects what’s truly important to you. Summer classes, congested monthly planners and time sheets have defined college for me and sculpted my professional résumé into a true work of art, but what does it mean? While I believe it is important to complete projects on time in school or during an internship, I think it’s just as dire to make time to embrace friends and cherish family.

Ask yourself these questions to frame your life in perspective:

  1. When is the last time I connected with someone face to face?
  2. In five years, will I be proud of what I am doing right now?
  3. When did I feel loved?
  4. When is the last time I really laughed?
  5. Am I working toward the greater good of myself or my job?

Remember to keep working and propelling yourself toward goals but ensure time for yourself and the passions dear to you. I, too, struggle with the thought of breaking up with years of set schedules and declined invitations, but, reader, our happiness is absolutely essential to personal salvation. Break away from the chains of distraction, and I encourage you to reintroduce yourself to life.

Let us know on Twitter (@OYWPittsburgh #OYWHouse with hashtag #taketheleap) how you will focus your new freedom.


[photo: Stock Exchange]

First Pitch

It is a big stepping-stone in a PR student’s career when a reporter picks up your first pitch. I will never forget the feeling I had when the One Young House press release ended up on Bulldog Reporter online. While media monitoring last Wednesday, I saw the release and ran around the office with a goofy grin telling everyone who would listen about the hit—not one of my more professional moments. But it was important to me because it was the first time I actually felt like a PR professional. Every journalist is looking for something different and can be very picky about the style or format in which newsworthy material is presented. For me, the most difficult thing to grasp is how to get to the point in my writing. I have always had a tendency to begin with elaborate introductions and use descriptive visuals, but public relations writing is all about getting the news out as quickly and effectively as possible.

The best format for a pitch is to give a brief overview of what the press release is about. Simply follow the five W’s that you learned in elementary school: who, what, when, where and why. This is the easiest way to be clear and concise and to make sure the most newsworthy material appears in the first sentence.

My favorite part (and also a very important aspect) of pitching is coming up with an eye-catching title. Most press releases to journalists immediately end up in the trashcan (either real or virtual). It is extremely important to have a headline that makes the reader want to learn more.

Seeing my press release in a top PR news publication made me feel that this career is exactly what I am meant to be doing.

[photo: creativecommons.org/theseanster93]


Words of Devotion

At the beginning of my first long weekend at @erwwpr, I decided I would take the weekend off from social media, email and pretty much everything outside of actual human contact. Nothing against social media, but as it becomes an increasingly important part of my job, I like to maintain a balance between the real and evaluations of the real. I decided it was time for a little break. Ironically, I left my phone at the first bar I went to on Friday night, so I ended up not having a choice in the matter.

Normally over such a holiday weekend, I would have been focused on typical summer kickoff behavior. But thanks to a moving article by Marian Salzman on the Huffington Post about Memorial Day, what was on my mind all weekend was one of my absolute nearest and dearest friends.

My friend (who by request shall remain nameless) graduated from the University of Dayton this spring and simultaneously from the ROTC program (first in her class, I might proudly add). She received placement orders and found out her deployment information: Afghanistan in March. As everyone who was home for the weekend basked in the sun and hit the town, my friend worked out, brushed up on the history of military intelligence and prepared to take a computer science class all summer.

Memorial Day has never really meant more to me than a day off from school and extra family time. But this year, in the 90-degree heat and against the backdrop of freshly graduated friends, I finally began to understand the sentiment of the holiday and all the ways that the day fails to capture and acknowledge the incomprehensible sacrifice that soldiers and their families have given.

To best describe what I mean is to explain my friend, who is a truly wonderful person. She is set apart—not by her drive, ambition or skill, but by her mentality. Those who contribute to something truly special often share her mentality, an overwhelming devotion to the success of the group or the effort, as opposed to that of personal and individual success.

And honestly, it’s the driving force behind the One Young World (OYW) summit.

OYW delegates, all highly accomplished individuals, aren’t there for a line to add to a résumé or to build personal networks. They are there because, like my friend, they want to understand what is necessary for the success and well-being of their respective countries and groups, and they want to be the people to execute those ideas.

Both OYW delegates and military veterans realize that despite often being disinclined to be a leader, they recognize that this quality is the reason they must continue. These people not only understand the idea of leadership in a democracy, but they also actively live it every day. As we prepare for the One Young World summit, we must recognize that it is a chance to address important issues without having to sacrifice people’s lives. OYW is a chance for our young leaders to come together and collectively agree that our institutions and values hang on by fragile threads, while trying to correct and stabilize them.

And so, especially this weekend, but hopefully more frequently in our lives, we can dedicate our barbecues, fireworks, long morning runs, free and lively debates, and apple pies to the people who understand the fragility of the world’s institutions and values and literally give their lives to protect and preserve them.

[photo: Stock Exchange]

The Thrill of Immersion

In about two hours, I will be wrapping up my first full workweek as an intern at Euro RSCG Worldwide PR. The exhaustion of being up at 5 a.m. every day that had been wearing on me all week is, minute by minute, being replaced by growing elation and excitement at the prospect of sleeping in tomorrow. But while the mornings have been tiring and the nighttimes short, because of a newly instated 10 p.m. bedtime, my first week at @erwwpr has been unlike any other at a new job.

Upon meeting my fellow interns, and newest friends, on Monday morning, I knew it was going to be a fast-paced summer surrounded by talented people. Within about an hour of introductions, we all dispersed with assignments in hand. That very morning, I learned my first lesson in PR: Don’t be afraid. This might seem silly and obvious, but it became immediately clear that I couldn’t hesitate to ask questions or make my own judgments, or even get something wrong. Fear is the ultimate inhibitor, and to be successful at anything, especially PR, you have to learn to let it go.

Additionally, the pace at @erwwpr immediately caught up with me. But I am learning to adapt to it as a motivator, not a series of unending deadlines. Our work is challenging in its quantity and interesting. Adopting an aggressive, always-say-yes attitude is the best way to immerse yourself, use your strengths, and improve your weaknesses.

This opportunity and experience will certainly be a valuable addition to my professional portfolio. But what I think is an even more valuable component is the chance to work in a predominantly female office. Coming from a political background, I have always been seriously outnumbered by men, and I’m hypersensitive to the 16 percent female leadership rate in this country. Working at @erwwpr Pittsburgh provides countless examples of smart, intuitive, well-balanced women who not only know how to lead in an office but also cooperate and work efficiently. As ambitious and malleable interns, I don’t think there could be anything more inspiring to be exposed to.

Although I’m struggling even now to have time to finish this blog post, and I’m on my third coffee of the day, I can honestly say I have never been more excited for an opportunity. The work is constantly changing, our co-workers are talented and while it’s clear (painfully, at times) that I have a lot to learn, I am genuinely thrilled for the challenge.

The One Young House posts on our blog document the experiences of four students participating in a unique and immersive internship with @erwwpr in Pittsburgh. Our main project is promoting the One Young World summit, a pro bono initiative of @erwwpr and Havas that’s coming to Pittsburgh in October. We will be sharing our experiences with traditional and social media relations, grassroots events and community presentations while living together as a team, operating out of One Young House.

[photo: Cassie Lenski]