Skip to Main Content

Music is Universal, Education Should Be Too

by Tammy Tibbetts

Girls around the world endlessly fascinate me. Although I’m 25, I’m able to develop a bond, and an awareness of their dreams, through social media. I’m focused on girls in my day job, where I tweet for a teen magazine, and after hours, when I’m burning the midnight oil working on She’s the First, a not-for-profit supporting girls’ education, and its benefit concert, GIRLS WHO ROCK.One of my favorite recent girl stories starts with Lady Gaga. If you’re among her eight million followers, you may have seen her tweet, “Can’t stop crying watching this. This is why I make music. She is the future.” She linked to a video that’s now a YouTube phenomenon: 10-year-old Maria’s cover of Gaga’s new single “Born This Way.” Maria’s rendition, sung while playing her keyboard and wearing a plain white T-shirt, is the purest version of the original, which Gaga first performed when she broke out of an egg on stage the Grammys. Isn’t it amazing how universal music is?

Here’s another highlight: In an email I received from Elizabeth David, the 18-year-old Tanzanian girl sponsored by GIRLS WHO ROCK, the benefit concert for She’s the First during Internet Week New York, she wrote, “My favourite musicians are Jordin Sparks, Beyonce, Bruno Mars, Willow Smith, and Shontelle.” In a country in which more than half of the population subsists on less than $1 per day, there is still a following for the same artists I listen to on my iPod. Music is universal.

It was the realization that education is not universal that led me to create She’s the First with a team of Millennial women in November 2009. She’s the First sponsors girls in the developing world who will be the first in their family to graduate — maybe even the first to read and write. Did you know that of the 130 million children in the world who are not in school (an atrocity in itself), 70% are girls? In countries like Tanzania, where Elizabeth is from, 95% of girls don’t graduate secondary school. Yet research shows educating girls results in healthier, happier families and communities and stronger economies. You can read about the high return on investment in TIME magazine’s Feb. 14th article, “To Fight Poverty, Invest in Girls,” or at length in the book Half the Sky by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

She’s the First is a social-media-enabled, grassroots response to this global call to action. We partner with NGOs already working with local communities to provide education in the poorest of countries. We help our partners tap into an enthusiastic, creative donor base that they may have overlooked: Millennials, or teens, college students, and young professionals, those born between 1980 and 1995. Our supporters creatively fundraise among their social circles — whether it’s a game night fundraiser in their NYC apartment (one sponsored six girls in Tanzania) or tie-dye cupcake bake sales in their dorms (University of Notre Dame students raised $900 to sponsor three girls in Nepal). We understand most of our donors can only afford $10 here, $20 there — money they might otherwise budget for entertainment. But together, we can change a girl’s life trajectory with these small donations.

Our marquee event, the benefit concert GIRLS WHO ROCK, is one of our best ways of showing the philanthropic power of our generation. Last year, our first concert — produced entirely on volunteer effort and in-kind donations — raised $6,000, funding six full years of education for three girls in AfricAid’s Kisa Project. With a Facebook event and @GirlsWhoRockNY Twitter feed pushing ticket sales, as well as Live Tweets, Livestreaming, and online donations through and, we showed how online action drives offline impact. Year-round, we show our donors how their support has impacted Elizabeth and her classmates Happiness and Grace, by publishing emails, photos, and videos to the She’s the First blog. My co-founder Cynthia Hellen devised our tagline, “Music is universal. Education should be, too,” and it couldn’t strike a deeper chord.

2011 speaker Tammy Tibbetts is the founder and president of She’s the First, a not-for-profit that sponsors girls’ education in the developing world. Follow Tammy on Twitter: