A veteran of Nike’s Girl Effect talks about the power of branding and Portland’s global potential.

Julia Plowman
Image: Joni Kabana

You helped develop the Girl Effect, the campaign to channel aid to adolescent girls that’s become the focus of Nike’s $30 million–a–year charitable foundation. How did you get there?

I came here from New York to work at Wieden & Kennedy. I helped start WK’s Tokyo office, then went to the Amsterdam office. I thought I’d be there for six months. I met my husband there and stayed for seven years.

When we decided it was time to come back to the States, we thought Portland would be the perfect place. I left WK when I wanted to use my international experience at a major foundation. 

The Swoosh carries plenty of weight. Why “The Girl Effect,” which has no overt Nike connection?

A million white papers had been written about helping adolescent girls around the world as a way to break cyclical poverty. Not much had been done. Girls were always lumped in with either “women” or “youth.” The problem is huge, way bigger than Nike. So what could we contribute? What does Nike do uniquely well? Branding. 

Girl Effect, very intentionally, is not branded as Nike. Other partners can get involved with it and feel like they own it. And it’s great to see a session at Davos about girls, and Bill Clinton talking about the issue at Clinton Global Initiative. None of that used to happen. But the popular response—hearing people use the term “girl effect” as a figure of speech—has been just as amazing.

Then you left: first to World Pulse, a small, new nonprofit that gives developing-world women access to digital media. Now you’re a freelance consultant, working with Mercy Corps on its brand. What have you learned?

What’s possible, and what’s necessary. Start-ups have great passion and ideas, but struggle to make that operational. Everyone’s in scrappy, seat-of-the-pants mode. They want to do everything and talk to everyone. The challenge is to get beyond that. You need clarity and focus.

Branding is a big part of that. Small organizations or companies tend to view branding as a luxury, and that’s a mistake. A good brand helps define strategy. And strategy really needs to shape the organization. At World Pulse, the work was great and the mission was brilliant, but they needed a structure. I was hired as COO, and as I was figuring things out I realized that strategically the organization didn’t need someone in that job. So I eliminated my own position. I kind of couldn’t believe it.

Wouldn’t New York, DC, or London be better as home base for your work?

It can be good that you’re not in New York or DC. There, you’re just one of thousands. In Portland, you have to be adventurous and outward-looking. The base of the culture here is a pioneering spirit, which brings creativity and grit. We attract people who believe they can reshape the future. —ZD 





WHO The Portland-based “up-cycling” company, founded 2009, makes apparel and accessories out
of material discarded at overseas textile factories.

WHAT In November 2011, one of the world’s largest leather tannery companies told Looptworks founder Scott Hamlin it tossed 4,500 pounds of leather every day in Vietnam and China. Solution: turn the refuse into stitched slipcases for iPads and other digital tablets, retailing for up to $80. 

WHY One Looptworks case requires 4,000 fewer gallons of water to produce than a similar product made with fresh material. So far, the company has sold several thousand.

HOW “This tannery company sells to all the big guys here,” Hamlin says. “They heard about us through the press, but had a sales agent here because of the strength of Portland’s apparel industry.” —ZD



WHO From her base in Camas, Washington, Jilma Meneses orchestrates aid to orphans in Congo. 

WHAT Founded after Meneses, now 47, visited the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2001, OFA provides housing and supplies to orphans. Recently, volunteers at a southern Congo hospital trained locals to make a nutrient-rich peanut-butter paste to address malnutrition. 

WHY “These are truly beautiful, strong people who have survived the worst genocide in the world,” says Meneses, who also works as Portland State’s chief diversity officer. 

HOW Meneses taps volunteers steeped in Portland’s tech scene to help adopted kids stay in touch with each other through private social media sites and blogs. —TF 



WHO This nine-year-old Portland organization provides grassroots media access and training to women in developing countries.

WHAT With an emphasis on blogging, World Pulse’s specialized social network caters to women who access the web via small-town Internet cafés and cell phones. A Portland-based editorial team picks the best user-generated content and syndicates it to major media organizations like Reuters and CNN.

WHY “We’re building a basic media infrastructure for people who don’t have it,” says founder Jensine Larsen. “How do you use Skype? What’s the most effective way to use Facebook?”

HOW World Pulse draws on volunteers from Intel and the local open-source software scene to help support its tech platform. —ZD



WHO Medical Teams International operates in 70 nations, but new president and former Horizon Air CEO Jeff Pinneo wants the relief org—founded in Portland in 1979 in response to the Cambodian killing fields—to stay close to its roots.

WHAT Since 2000, MTI has trained more than 700 Cambodian first responders in first aid and EMT skills.

WHY With about five people killed every day in a nation of 14 million, the country’s automotive fatality rate is one of the world’s worst. 

HOW Medical Teams’ Portland supply distribution center is staffed by 250 local volunteers. —RD 



WHO Mike Safley founded the nonprofit based in Portland and Peru in 1996. 

WHAT Quechua Benefit provides medical care, shelter, food, and social services to the Quechua, Peru’s indigenous people. This past fall, the organization opened a 16,000-square-foot village called Casa Chapi, which can house 100 children with cottages, a greenhouse, shops, a health center, and a library.

WHY “The Quechua people have largely been forgotten by their own country,” says Daryl Gohl, the organization’s current president.

HOW Northwest farms are home to 20 percent of the US population of alpacas, the Quechua’s traditional source of cashmere-like fiber, forging cultural and business links between the regions.—LL 



WHO Portland State architecture profs (and spouses) Sergio Palleroni and Margarette Leite led a student team to design a hypergreen prefab classroom.

WHAT A single unit will cost about $75,000, competitive with a standard US modular classroom. A prototype now being tested in Gervais, Oregon, will help the design team devise adaptations for different climates. Canadian manufacturers and Planned Parenthood, which wants to deploy mobile health clinics in Latin America, are interested.

WHY “Everyone wants green building, but it’s been hard to get costs down,” Leite says. “There are 350,000 modular classrooms in the US alone. The global potential is huge.”

HOW Prototyped with help from the state and destined for mass manufacture by a long-standing Oregon prefab builder, the Sage uses nontoxic materials, insulation that stores and releases heat, and steel flooring to speed installation. —ZD



WHO In 2005, Oregon Health & Science University researcher Anais Tuepker and physicist hubby Craig Miller launched Preciva, a start-up aiming to develop rapid, cheap screening technology for cervical cancer. 

WHAT After raising $11,000 via a Kickstarter-like website, the small company prototyped a portable scanning unit that maps a woman’s cervix in real time. This year, field tests start in Bangalore, India.

WHY “In India, maybe 6 percent of women get screened,” Tuepker says. “With our test, you don’t need a lab, you read results right away on a smartphone, and it’s about $2 per test.”

HOW Tuepker and Miller formed the for-profit Preciva as a B Corp-certified (think LEED for businesses) firm with support from Portland State’s Social Innovation Incubator. —RD



WHO Portland surfers John Koenig and Ryan Cruse founded the nonprofit in 2008.

WHAT They dispatch used surf gear to Mexico, Chile, and Morocco.

WHY While surfers flock to places like Peru’s Trujillo Province and Morocco’s Atlantic Coast, people who actually live there often can’t afford to participate in the sport. 

HOW Warm Current, which gathers its donated equipment around the Northwest, also stages surf workshops for kids here who would ordinarily lack access to the sport. —GP 



WHO This “virtual organization”—no office, one staff member—with an all-Portland board certifies the environmental and social practices of sporting events, including Eugene’s 2012 Olympic Trials, Britain’s Paralympic training camp, and marathons in Venezuela and Italy.

WHAT Just as LEED ratings indicate green construction, CRS’s “ReSport” program defines standards on issues ranging from waste diversion to handicapped access. 

WHY “I like to cut through any vagueness or greenwashing,” says executive director Keith Peters. 

HOW The CRS board was recruited from Portland’s sportswear, legal, and charitable circles; the Timbers and Spirit Mountain have ponied up grants; Wieden & Kennedy offered pro bono branding. —RD 



WHO The scion of the truck stop empire fosters citizen diplomacy in Cyprus, a Mediterranean island nation split between Greek and Turkish factions.

WHAT The 68-year-old Jubitz organizes meetings of leaders from both sides of the ethnic divide (the next is scheduled for Malta in March) and a program, based on similar efforts in Northern Ireland, that brings Turkish and Greek teens to live together in the US.

WHY Jubitz’s foundation has a number of emphases, including education and the environment, but peacemaking is his personal focus.

HOW Connections made through a pair of Portland State professors—one Greek, one Turkish—have been key to Jubitz’s efforts. —ZD 



WHO Laura Peterson founded this Portland nonprofit to improve child care, parenting, and women’s social development. 

WHAT HHI trains caregivers in India, Uganda, and the US on language skills, cognitive development, and other skills. (The organization has also been active in Russia and Swaziland.) About 30,000 adults have participated in its programs so far. 

WHY “There’s not much training in how to take care of a child,” Peterson says. “A simple lecture on hygiene can be vitally important.” 

HOW “Portland has an amazing brain trust: people who worked for the World Bank, people who worked in Pakistan for 30 years, people who literally wrote the book on women’s development. They choose to be here, and we tap into their expertise.”—LL