Melissa co-leads Girl Up, hosted at the UN Foundation, which inspires, convenes, trains, and connects girls globally and helps to position them as leaders and changemakers. Since joining in September 2011, Melissa has helped Girl Up raise over $15 million dollars to support a robust girl’s leadership program and the crucial work of Girl Up’s United Nations partners. Melissa works with corporations such as The Walt Disney Corporation, Caterpillar, Johnson&Johnson, Oath and others as well as manages the grant making and investments to UN agencies including UNICEF, UNHCR, UNFPA and UN Women. She has traveled to Guatemala, Ethiopia, Malawi and India to meet girls directly benefitting from the fundraising efforts of Girl Up supporters. Under Melissa’s leadership, Girl Up has grown into a global gender equality movement of more than 700,000 supporters and impacted the lives of more than 65,000 girls around the world.
Melissa has served as the Campaign Director and Deputy Director of Girl Up. Before joining the UN Foundation, Melissa served as a National Director for OP3, where she helped to manage the nine-city multi-day fundraising walk series benefiting the Avon Foundation for Women, which raised an average of $45 million each season. During her tenure with the Avon Walks, she oversaw national staff and remote field teams, and introduced a program called the Youth Crew, which targeted youth ages 10-16 to participate in the walk and raise money for the Avon Foundation. Melissa holds a Bachelor of Journalism in Strategic Communication from University of Missouri – Columbia.
What do I do best?
I am persistent. Execution and literally just making things happen are two of my biggest strengths. Certainly, my previous position honed those qualities. When I get stressed, I go into to-do list mode and start cranking through things, which I think carries over to persistence in general.
What makes me the best version of myself?
Work ethic is definitely the most important characteristic that’s gotten me here and probably makes me my best. I’ve always been willing to put in the extra time and effort to do what’s expected of me and go above and beyond. I’ve never worried about my job description or what was or wasn’t my responsibility. I just really believe in doing the work, to do the job, to have the result you’re trying to reach. When you work as part of a team, whether something’s technically part of your job or not, the ultimate success remains your responsibility.
What are my aspirations?
My main aspiration is to lead Girl Up toward becoming the global organization I know it has the potential to be. From my perspective, success at work adds to, rather than, detracts from my family – my presence and commitment to them, how I raise my daughter, and more. For me, those two things can go hand-in-hand.
My Biggest Success?
I would say my greatest success was being named Director of Girl Up. I joined Girl Up at age 30 worked as Deputy Director for 14 months. When the opening became available, UN Foundation leadership believed in me even though I was still young. I’ve faced successes and challenges, but the role itself has been my greatest accomplishment in and of itself.
My Most Challenging Moment?
At my job right before Girl Up, I basically delegated myself out of a position. I had been working on events for eight years and, in aiming to empower others around me, began delegating to others thinking there would be a next step for me to take. But, a point came where the company looked at the budget and saw my position as expendable. I didn’t end up getting laid off, but that was in the conversation. It was definitely the hardest thing I’d been through because I’d given everything to that position, but it led to me applying to Girl Up and landing my dream job. So, I’m also grateful for how that moment set me on a new path. The greatest lesson I learned is that you can put everything into your job and may not get everything back. Now, I often give Girl Up team members the advice that it’s important to have things in your life outside of work that matter to you. It’s okay to choose your personal life over your work life at times.
“Believe you can and you will.”
My Favorite People/Role Models?
I would say one of my favorite people and role models is definitely my mom – which I know everyone says, but it’s true. She worked her whole life helping others as a healthcare educator. She’s so generous and giving of herself in a way that I know I’ll probably never be, but always aspire to be more like. She inspired this notion of helping others in me that ultimately connects to my career in the non-profit sector.
Jacki Zehner, one of the founders of Women Moving Millions, is one of my professional role models. She is charismatic and present – she is smart and strategic – she is a connector and a community builder. These are all attributes I really admire in others and areas that I’m constantly looking to grow in my own leadership.
My Favorite Places/Destinations?
Anywhere with a beach. If I can hear and smell the ocean, go in the waves – it doesn’t matter where –, that is my favorite destination.
My Favorite Products/Objects?
My car. At different points in my life, I used to just drive as a way to think. Whether I was living in Los Angeles, Chicago or DC, it’s always been a way for me to process.
I also like my notebooks a lot. I put quotes on a lot of them and, when I fill one up, get a new one. I take a lot of care in picking out the next notebook and what quote will go on it because that’s ultimately what I’m going to look at every day.
I also really appreciate the camera on my phone. I’m not great at taking pictures in general, but have been able to capture so much more of my travels with Girl Up, my daughter, my life experiences, and more because I have that camera handy. I go through my pictures a lot and, if that weren’t attached to me all the time, I wouldn’t have the same records of my experiences. Now I just have so much more footage of this amazing life of mine than I did in my early 20s.
My Current Passions?
I literally spend every waking moment in either Girl Up or with my toddler. My passions right now are trying to be a good mom and a good wife. I have this big job that takes up so much of my time that those really are my priorities. I read a lot about motherhood and relationships – it’s really, really important to me. So, I would say my family is my passion right now, as is, of course, Girl Up. Gender equality and being central in that movement right now really drives me.