Every day, I scan the headlines for good news. Sometimes, there’s a gem and other times, not much. Recently, two headlines caught my eye on the same day, which in and of itself, I counted as a good sign.
First, I read that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had been awarded $1 million by the Berggruen Institute. The annual Berggruen Prize for Philosophy & Culture is bestowed upon individuals whose ideas have shaped human self-understanding and advancement in our rapidly changing world. Ginsburg indicated that she plans to donate all of the funds to non-profit or charitable organizations. Based on her lifelong commitment to women’s rights and women’s empowerment, I wouldn’t be surprised if she directs the funds to organizations devoted to the challenges and concerns facing women.
Second, I read an article about the second annual PowHerful Foundation Enrichment Summit held in Atlanta last year. The PowHerful Foundation helps women attend and graduate from college. Their support includes financial assistance and mentorship to enable women to thrive in their education and future profession. Many of the program participants are the first in their families to go to college, and this alone could impact future generations of women. In 2014, a White House report indicated that only one in 10 people from low-income backgrounds completed an undergraduate degree by age 25, while half of all people from high-income families finish college. Events such as the Enrichment Summit open up opportunities that wouldn’t exist otherwise. The first Enrichment Summit was the result of a partnership with the Spanx Sara Blakely Foundation. If you’re not familiar with Spanx or Sara Blakely, you’ve overlooked the backstory of the first American female billionaire businesswoman.
Sara Blakely graduated from Florida State University with a degree in communications. One of her first jobs after college was selling fax machines door to door. As the story is told, she knew that her professional style and demeanor would impact her success and sales record. One time, she decided to cut off the feet of her pantyhose and wore them under her slacks to an event. Sara wanted a slim look without obvious ‘panty’ lines and she wanted her clothes to feel comfortable. These cutoff pantyhose seemed to work fairly well, but Sara decided to improve upon her idea. So, for a few years, she experimented with different ways of cutting and shaping pantyhose while saving every penny to start a business. Sara spoke with hosiery mills and applied for a patent as she continued refining and testing product designs and packaging. Next, she formed the Spanx company and sold Spanx underwear products to Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, and Saks.
After Sara sent a basket of Spanx products to Oprah Winfrey, Winfrey named Spanx “a favorite thing” and sales took off. Word spread and the Spanx product line expanded. First-year sales exceeded four million dollars followed by ten million in the second year. In 2001, over 8,000 Spanx products were sold in the first six minutes of advertising on the QVC network. Fast forward to 2019, where the company is valued at over one billion dollars and Blakely’s name routinely appears on the “best” lists such as Forbes.
As the company grew, Blakely turned her attention to philanthropy focusing on the goal of empowering women in their professional, personal, and family life. That’s the motivation behind the Spanx Foundation which creates and sponsors programs for women. For example, the Foundation provided $100,000 to Let Girls Learn, a Peace Corps initiative that creates educational opportunities for teenage girls in different countries. Later, they sponsored a fundraiser for Every Mother Counts to raise awareness of maternal health issues. The Foundation also provides financial support for the Global Village Project to educate female refugee students to opportunities in science, technology, engineering, math and the arts. Other activities of the Foundation include helping homeless women and victims of domestic violence, giving grants to the Atlantic Girls School for entrepreneurship program, and contributing one million dollars to the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy in Africa. The list of creative, philanthropic efforts goes on and on.
Sara Blakely is the youngest person to join The Giving Pledge, with a commitment to donate the majority of her wealth to philanthropy. From my perspective, that’s good news too. “Since I was a little girl, I have always known I would help women. In my wildest dreams, I never thought I would have started with their butts.” Blakely adds, “it turns out, that’s a great place to start.”
Julie Richman is a freelance writer, project manager and consultant. She and her family have lived on Colorado Springs’ northeast side for 21 years. Contact Julie with comments or ideas for her column at firstname.lastname@example.org.