33 million girls around the globe are out of school.
Let that sink in for a minute, that's three times the population of the island of Manhattan, six times the population of Ireland, and twice as many people as in The Netherlands.
That means that 33 million girls, instead of expanding their horizons, enjoying their youth, and becoming the next generation of leaders, are being sold off as sex slaves, being confined to domesticity at home, or married off to men four times their age.
John Wood, Founder of Room to Read, and the organization's CEO Dr. Geetha Murali think we can do better to address the oft overlooked ramifications the literacy of children and lack of education. "We're here today celebrating the importance of challenging illiteracy and gender inequality in education," said the CEO. "We know that together we can make sure the game is changed for millions of children all around the world."
Murali and Wood joined a group of 230 enthused philanthropists, mediaites, and business professionals for an evening of cocktails, conversation and fund-raising in New York, as well as a nostalgic performance from early oughts superstar, Ashanti.
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 17: Ashanti performs onstage during the 2018 Room to Read New York Gala on May 17, 2018 at SECOND in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Room to Read)
"Education is the foundation for all future learning, and if we don't ensure that children are educated young, their futures are at risk."
-Dr. Geetha Murali, CEO, Room to Read
Room to Read, a non-profit Wood founded in 2000, has, since conception reached over 12M children throughout the globe in its drive to end childhood illiteracy. Their agenda for the evening was to both honor some of their most emphatic supporters, and raise much needed money, as they aim to reach 15M children by 2020. On offer at the auction, everything from a swim with Olympic medalist Kim Vandenberg, to a trip to Cambodia, and a year-long WeWork membership, the grand sum of which raised a whopping $3M in a mere matter of hours.
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 17: Honoree Editor-in-Chief of Glamour Samantha Barry speaks onstage during the 2018 Room to Read New York Gala on May 17, 2018 at SECOND in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Room to Read)
"One of the things Glamour is really, really, passionate about is empowering women and girls, and the best way to do that is through education,"
-Samantha Barry, Editor-in-Chief, Glamour
Being honored were Glamour's newly-appointed Editor-in-Chief Samantha Barry, and Citigroup's President, Jamie Forese. The significance of the award was not lost on Barry, who spoke with SWAAY about the importance of initiatives focused on educating girls, for the future of the global economy. "One of the things Glamour is really, really, passionate about is empowering women and girls, and the best way to do that is through education," she noted. "In some countries they see it as economical to have the girls at home or cooking or working , but the reality is if you put a girl into secondary [high] school and if you put her into further education, not only does it benefit her, but it benefits her family, [and] her community."
Echoing Barry's sentiments was Revenge and Greek star Dilshad Vadsaria, who was recently appointed an ambassador for the non-profit. Speaking with SWAAY, she told us how she came to know of their work and why she wanted to get involved. “I was talking to someone and they were telling me, 'Oh, I know room to read, they put books on top of mules and they carry them to these villages where children don’t have access to these books,'" she said with a smile. "The commitment it takes and the passion it takes to actually do that, where most people would go, 'well, that’s an area we can’t get to so we’ll have to concentrate on this area.' There’s no stopping them, they go above and beyond."
"These children are not going to stop needing an education, they’re not going to stop needing a place to escape too, so they can dream and hope and in turn have their dreams come true,"
-Dilshad Vadsaria, Room to Read ambassador
Olympian Kim Vandenberg also chimed in on the praise for the work Wood's organization has done over the last eighteen years. The swimmer, who is now working with young athletes to hone their skills and encourage ambition, was a natural fit for ambassador. “I work with a lot of younger swimmers and I help empower them and build their confidence so that they can achieve whatever goals they have, in and out of the pool," she commented. "So, I feel like that lines up really well with Room to Read and I’m really excited to help promote the brand to go international.”
Neema Mwita, of Tanzania took to the stage to talk about Room to Read's impact on her life. Her emotional speech ended with a raucous applause. Neema Mwita speaks onstage during the 2018 Room to Read New York Gala on May 17, 2018 at Kimpton Hotel Eventi in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Room to Read)
Barry also spoke about doing her part in going beyond the pages of to enact change and impart the importance of advocacy to Glamour's 2.3M subscribers. In her first print issue of Glamour released this month, chose to focus solely on money, and a new attitude for the magazine going forward. in her new position spends her days championing female empowerment through one of Condé Nast's oldest running publications,
"I'm only the seventh editor that Glamour has had since 1939 so it's a responsibility I take very, very seriously," says Barry, an Irish native, who worked at CNN and BBC before stepping into her new post. "Glamour's a place that not only can do light and more serious topics around women, but really speaks to a lot of women in the middle of the country in America. I think there's a lot of media brands that don't engage with those communities in a way that they should do. I have very lofty ambitions for the type of journalism we'll be telling in the coming months."
In many ways I am a shining example of the American Dream. I was born in Hungary during the Communist era, and my family fled to Israel before coming to the U.S. in pursuit of freedom and safety. When we arrived, I was just a young, shy girl who couldn't speak English. After my childhood in Hungary, New York City was a marvel; I couldn't believe that such a lively, rich place existed. Even a simple thing like going to the market and seeing all the bright, colorful produce and having so many choices was new to me. I'll never take that for granted. I think it's where my love affair with color truly began.
One thing I had was a strong work ethic. I worked hard in school, to learn English, and at jobs including my first job at Dairy Queen -- which I loved! Ice cream is easily my favorite food. From there, I moved into the garment district where my brother-in-law's family had a business. During this time, I was able to see how a business was run and began to hone in on my eye for aesthetics and willingness to work hard at any task I was given.
Eventually, my brother-in-law bought a dental supply company in Los Angeles and asked me to join him. LA, a place with 365-days of sunshine. How could I say no? The company started as Odontorium Products Inc. During the acrylic movement of the 1980s, we realized that nail technicians were buying our product, and that the same components used for dentures were used for artificial nails. We saw a potential opening in the market, and we seized it. OPI began dropping off the "rubber band special" at every salon on Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. A jar of powder, liquid and primer – rubber-banded together – became the OPI Traditional Acrylic System and was a huge hit, giving OPI its start in the professional nail industry. It was 1981 when OPI first opened its doors. I couldn't have predicted our success, but I knew that hard work and faith in myself would be key in transforming a new business into a company with global reach.
When we started OPI, what we were doing was something new. Before OPI came on the scene, the generic, utilitarian nail polish names already on the market – like Red No. 4, Pink No. 2 – were completely forgettable. We rebranded the category with catchy names that we knew women could relate to and would remember. The industry was stale and boring, so we made it more fun and sexy. We started creating color collections. I carefully developed 30 groundbreaking colors for the debut collection -- many of which are still beloved bestsellers today, including Malaga Wine, Alpine Snow and Kyoto Pearl.
There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does.
With deep roots in Tinseltown, we eventually started collaborating with Hollywood. Our decision to collaborate with the entertainment industry also propelled OPI forward in another way, ultimately leading us to finding a way to connect with women beyond the world of beauty, relating our products to the beverages they drink, the cars they drive, the movies they watch, the clothes they wear – even the shade they use to paint their living room walls! There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does. It also propelled my growth as a businessperson forward. I found myself sitting in meetings with executives from some of the top companies in the world. I didn't have a fancy presentation. I didn't have a Harvard business degree. I realized that what I had was passion. I had a passion for what we were doing, and I had my own unique story that no one else could replicate.
Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today
Bit by bit, I grew up with the business. Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today -- an author, public speaker, and co-founder of OPI, the world's #1 professional nail brand.
I learned quickly that one can be an expert at many things, but not everything. Running a business is very hard work. Luckily, I had someone I could collaborate with who brought something new to the table and complemented my talents, my brother-in-law George Schaeffer. My business "superpower," or the ability to make decisions quickly and confidently, kept me ahead of trends and competition.
Another key to my success in building this brand and in growing in business was being authentic. Authenticity is so important to brands and maybe even more so now in the time of social media when you can speak directly to your consumers. I realized even then that I could only be me. I was a woman who knew what I wanted. I looked at my mother and daughter and wanted to create products that would excite and empower them.
There's often an expectation placed on women in charge that they need to be cutthroat to be competitive, but that's not true. Rather than focusing on my gender or any implied limitations I might bring to the job as a female and a mother, I always focused instead on my vision. I deliberately fostered an environment at OPI filled with warmth. After all, at the end of the day, your organization is only as good as its people. I've always found that being nice, being humble, and listening to others has served me well. Instead of pushing others down to get to the top, inspire them and bring them along on the journey.
You can read more about my personal and professional journey in my new memoir out now, I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time.