Have you ever met someone who is setting the world on fire – young, passionate, opinionated. I was sitting in a Marriott Family Foundation meeting the other day and was introduced to our newest program manager, Hannah. She shook my hand and it was one of the firmest grips I’ve ever received. You can tell a lot about a person by their handshake and eye contact.
Hannah has been with us a few short months and after hearing her story, I thought it worth sharing even at the risk of embarrassing her. Her story starts with a dirt road. Sometimes that’s all it takes to get inspired. It was 2005 when Hannah learned about a road construction project in a small village in Ghana. An international relief organization was determined to build it despite protests from women in the village who feared for the safety of their children. The new road meant faster traffic and a dangerous situation for children walking to school.
Hannah was astonished that the developers proceeded in spite of the mothers' concerns. “An entire village of women was ignored” Hannah said. So what happened? The mothers stopped sending their children to school. From then on, Hannah was determined to find solutions that worked.
For the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation, Hannah reviews grant proposals, helping decide which ones to fund. She’s perfect for the job having been on the receiving end of some prestigious ones. Her team faced the “Shark Tank” of foundation boards called the “MIT IDEAS GLOBAL CHALLENGE.” The project pitch was called “SHE – Sustainable Health Enterprises.” Its goal was to solve the problem of women missing work in Ghana due to lack of hygiene.
Hannah’s group proposed building female-led manufacturing cooperatives to produce feminine hygiene products. They also thought it could be a moneymaker. They won the MIT grant and the program is a big success.
Hannah’s life is filled with adventure, purpose and mission. She’s a global citizen having worked in 14 countries including Ghana, Tanzania, Rwanda and Myanmar, empowering women through education.
Hannah’s vision is this: "When you educate a woman," she says, "you educate a community and you give opportunities, not just to an individual, but to an entire group of people."
Hannah inspires my confidence in our future. I’m confident in this generation that’s more diverse, more traveled and more educated. One of our former executives used to say, “Sometimes you have to put on your helmet and get in the game.” That’s what this unassuming, somewhat shy, wisp of a woman is doing as she develops the next world-changing idea.
Welcome to The Marriott Foundation, Hannah! (I hope I’ve thoroughly embarrassed you.) You have my permission to pursue your passion and to keep innovating and creating opportunities. In fact, that goes for everyone.
I’m Bill Marriott and thanks for helping me keep Marriott on the move.