Distinguished Alumni Award: Maria Eitel ’80
Maria Eitel ’80 with journalists for Ni Nyampinga, Rwanda’s first magazine and radio show for girls. The Nike Foundation started Ni Nyampinga in 2011. (Photo by Mark Darrough.)
by Bronwyn Echols
"Poverty was, and still is, the issue of our time … To truly solve the problem, we had to get to the source and find the highest point of leverage to fix it.” That’s Maria Eitel on leanin.org, describing her epiphany about The Girl Effect—the theory that breaking the cycle of developing-world poverty can best be achieved through giving adolescent girls the tools to achieve their potential. In recognition of her work, Eitel received the 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award, which honors Lakeside and St. Nicholas alumni who make outstanding contributions to their professions or communities.
As president and CEO of the Nike Foundation since 2004, Eitel has made this cause her passion, and the burgeoning of support and success stories worldwide proves its worth. Childhood marriage deferred, and thus the terrible dangers of early pregnancy; years of education increased, making dreams tangible; pathways to financial independence opened, unleashing the work ethic of young women: All of these steps to remediate grinding poverty have a huge multiplier effect, benefitting not only the girls themselves—some 250 million around the globe—but also their families and their communities. Member of a dizzying number of agency and nonprofit boards and advisory groups, Eitel has been both champion and tireless communicator about The Girl Effect’s promise, focusing international conversations and action and telling the stories of young women who hope for a better future.
Poverty was, and still is, the issue of our time … To truly solve the problem, we had to get to the source and find the highest point of leverage to fix it.-Maria Eitel
From Lakeside on, Eitel has been on a trajectory to discover and act on her convictions. Studies at McGill University in the humanities and communications and at Georgetown in international development economics led to her early work as a television producer at KING, WETA, and the U.S. Information Agency. From 1989 to 1992, Eitel became a commissioned officer of the White House, directing media affairs for President George Bush Sr. Work in the corporate world followed: managing communications and community relations for MCI, directing public affairs for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and managing corporate affairs for Microsoft’s European operations.
In 1998, Eiteltook on what looked to be an impossible challenge—extricating Nike Inc. from the mire of dreadful publicity about the firm’s overseas factories. As Nike’s first vice president for corporate responsibility, Eitel headed the team effort that radically amended the company’s business practices in its foreign operations. She also spearheaded creation of an overall corporate responsibility agenda for Nike Inc. that included environmental policies, community investments, and corporate governance. In 2004, Nike founder Phil Knight embraced her vision for the Nike Foundation, appointing her as president and endorsing her commitment to transform the foundation into a game-changing player in alleviating poverty worldwide through The Girl Effect. Recognizing her profound impact, Babson College awarded her an honorary doctorate in humane letters at its commencement in 2012.
Eitel has been both champion and tireless communicator about The Girl Effect’s promise, focusing international conversations and action and telling the stories of young women who hope for a better future.
Along the way, Eitel made time for Lakeside. From 2002 to 2011, she was an integral, invaluable member of the school’s Board of Trustees, putting her high-level skills to good use in helping Bernie Noe, Lakeside’s head, develop strategic initiatives for the school. Her talents really shone on the Global Education Committee, created in 2005 to respond to the Mission Focus’ priority of fostering global citizenship in Lakeside students. Eitel often arrived at meetings fresh off a plane from foreign lands, brimming with new insights and excitement about the work to be done and doing her best to ensure that Lakeside students will have the potential to make this work theirs, too.
The ancient Greek scientist Archimedes said, “Give me the place to stand, and I shall move the earth.” Eitel has found her place to stand—her passion for improving the lives and fates of adolescent girls around the world—and, through the Nike Foundation, the lever to effect on our earth great changes for the better.