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Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world.
STANFORD GRADUATE SCHOOL OF BUSINESS—When Maria Eitel joined Nike Inc. in 1998, the company was known as a corporate behemoth with a ubiquitous brand—but one that treated its workers badly, especially in the developing world, she told an audience of Stanford Business School students.
Part of Eitel's job was to change that perception—and the reality behind it. It was a tough task but she moved on to fix what she saw as inefficient business practices at the company. She then oversaw creation of a foundation in pursuit of a bold, if unusual, goal for the sports apparel giant—to serve the needs of the world's neediest girls.
In a one-hour conversation with Business School students sponsored by the School's Global Management Program and the student International Development Club, Eitel talked about the challenges she faced in setting up a foundation that could truly make a difference in people's lives.
Eitel, a 2001 alumna of the School's Executive Program, is president of Nike Foundation, an organization, she said, that began as a nonprofit in search of a mission.
"We were going to solve everything," she said. "It was such an unrealistic view."
Eventually her team zeroed in on a pressing need: the plight of girls in many of the world's most impoverished countries.
About 82 million girls are married before their 18th birthday, according to the Foundation's website. About 14 million women and girls between 15 and 19 give birth each year, and many face other issues. In sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, more than three-quarters of all 15- to 24-year-olds living with HIV are female.
In many developing countries, girls face limited opportunities and are often expected to drop out of school, or not get any education at all, to serve their families' needs.
"They are the free labor in the home," Eitel said. "They are the insurance policy of their family. If something happens to the family, she is the first one to drop out of school. There are always these unique vulnerabilities that girls face."
"I was intrigued by that and became moved to really think about the economic opportunities of unleashing that potential. If you look at the world where there are 500 million girls in poverty who do not have access to any kind of ability to contribute to the economy, there is a massive upside for families to break the cycles of poverty."
Today, the Nike Foundation invests in education and other programs for girls in countries such as Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Ethiopia, India, and Zambia, working with other organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank.
"By investing in girls, you have this exponential impact on not just their lives, but those of everyone around them," she said.
Before joining Nike, Eitel served as European corporate affairs group manager for Microsoft Corp. Previously, she worked as director of public affairs for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and as senior manager of communications and community relations at MCI Corp.
Eitel also worked at the White House from 1989 to 1992 as deputy director of media relations and later as special assistant to the president for media affairs.- Ben Pimentel
For further information:
Helen K. Chang