Interview by Megan Foo, President of Women LEAD’s Hong Kong Chapter
Holly Curtis is the Outreach Associate at Girls’ Globe, a global network of bloggers and organizations working to raise awareness about the rights, health and empowerment of women and girls around the world. Passionate about girls education, access to healthcare and gender equality, Holly has traveled across four continents learning from and working with empowering female local leaders. Holly holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Political Economy and International Humanitarian Affairs from Fordham University. With Fordham University, Holly traveled to Spain to teach English at the pre-school level; South Africa to learn about HIV/AIDS treatment and women’s economic empowerment; and to Nicaragua to learn about disaster management procedures in place by the governments and local NGOs.
Women LEAD: What is your background?
Holly Curtis: Up until today, my life has been filled with supportive family and friends, opportunities to travel and learn and lots of coffee. I am from the United States and went to school at Fordham University in New York City where I studied International Political Economy and International Humanitarian Affairs.
Women LEAD: You formerly interned at Pencils of Promise, an organization that builds schools, trains teachers, and funds scholarships. Can you tell us more about your experiences with Pencils of Promise?
Holly Curtis: I first interned in Pencils of Promise’s (PoP) New York City office and then moved to Laos, one of PoP’s operating countries. The experience was unique because I spent a year advocating for PoP’s work here in NYC and then was able to actually see the schools and programming in Laos. The Laos office is almost entirely locally staffed and I was there as a support staff member to the Management and Coordinators.
I think PoP’s website does an honest and beautiful job representing their work so to speak to my experience specifically – it was an honor to work with such caring, dedicated and sincere co-workers. While in Laos, I certainly learned about the inner workings of an NGO and the political and cultural challenges that come with working abroad. But it was an experience that ultimately solidified my passion for quality education as an agent of change.
Women LEAD: You are also the Outreach Associate at Girls’ Globe, a global network of bloggers and organizations with the goal to raise awareness about the rights, health and empowerment of women and girls worldwide. Can you share with us your experiences with Girls’ Globe?
Holly Curtis: I started blogging for Girls’ Globe while living in Laos. Listening to the stories of my female friends and co-workers was such a growing experience. The empowerment I saw in Laos directly aligns with the mission of Girls’ Globe and so the partnership was a natural fit.
I am now the Outreach Associate and lead in the recruitment of our Featured Organizations and Bloggers. My favorite part of this role is speaking to female leaders around the world and hearing about what they are doing in their communities to empower women. All of our bloggers and organizations have such unique backgrounds and creative mindsets. It’s wonderful to hear how they are channeling this energy to promote the rights and health of women and girls.
Women LEAD: Why does women’s empowerment matter to you?
Holly Curtis: I’ve met many women who overcame great challenges to be leaders and change makers in their communities. Women’s empowerment matters to me because I’ve seen how a woman who has agency over her own decisions and is confident to share her opinions commands the attention of her community. I’m certainly in agreement with the research and opinions surrounding the effects girls’ education, maternal health and reproductive rights, however I think empowerment is a sum of these areas and more. A woman who is free to make decisions and feels confident in her role in society has a different glow in her eye. That’s what leads to the real trickle effects.
Women LEAD: Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
Holly Curtis: I can talk about many women who have impacted my life. But the strongest, most supportive and loving woman I know is without a doubt my mother. She has had an immeasurable impact on my life.
Women LEAD: What advice do you have for future women leaders?
Holly Curtis: Pay attention to the unplanned events and opportunities that come about in your life. I’ve spent hours talking with my female friends about our passions and where we feel like we can have an impact that aligns with our values – only to be left more confused at the end of the conversation.
However the answer started to come to fruition after looking back at past jobs, clubs, academic interests, etc. and noticing the trends. We’re all drawn to different activities for reasons beyond the title, whether it is the teamwork, mentorship, or creative freedom involved (or many other things!). For me, I liked how these three components came together in the education space.
Then, talk to other women in that field. Successful leaders have strong support networks and are great at building relationships. This means that current leaders will likely be very open about their experiences and you’ll be taking the lead by initiating that conversation. All you need to do is ask.
Finally, the other piece of advice I have is to engage men. If you already have a supportive male figure in your life, speak openly with him. Leaders are successful because all types of people support them.
Women LEAD: Are there books inspiring you right now about gender equality and women’s empowerment?
Holly Curtis: With a little digging, there are tons of inspiring books about gender equality and women’s empowerment. I guess what is more inspiring to me is reading books across genres and geographies that are written by female authors. There is a shortage of media and literature created by women and therefore a disparity in the stories being told. My recommendation is to make the next book you read within your favorite genre one written by a female.
But to give a quick list of inspiring books I’ve read recently (not explicitly about gender equality) I’d say Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay; The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison; The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan; and White Teeth by Zadie Smith.