Head of the Nike Foundation
Through the Nike Foundation and The Girl Effect, Maria has collaborated with numerous organizations in helping the women around the world participate in their society’s activities.
Maria has a diverse career background, having worked as a reporter, producer, public servant, and manager. She has experience working in both the public and private sectors, and has a deep understanding of how people in both sectors think. This has enabled her to successfully run the Nike Foundation and work with numerous organizations in helping make the world a better place for the adolescent women.
Bio Before Founding the Nike Foundation
Prior to the founding of the Nike Foundation, Maria became the company’s first vice president for corporate responsibility. Under her leadership, Nike was able to smoothly go through the challenges of the business world during the financial crisis that hit the late 1990s, through developing and implementing Nike’s very first corporate responsibility agenda, which included environmental sustainability, labor practices, community investment, governance, and diversity.
Many of Maria’s colleagues describe her as a very determined individual, never letting obstacles or challenges keep her from achieving her goal. She has also exhibited love and passion for young women, something that drove her in creating “The Girl Effect” with Novo founders, Peter and Jennifer Buffett.
Maria has such a talent with words that since she was young, she already exhibited the traits of being a diplomat. This has helped her all these years in the positions that she held in various companies and sectors, being able to use her diplomatic skills to convince both sides of any argument to arrive at a feasible conclusion.
This talent for speaking has also enabled her to become a very effective and powerful speaker; Maria often goes around the world speaking at various events and forums on topics such as corporate social responsibility, good governance, sustainable development, philanthropy, human and labor rights, as well as social entrepreneurship.
Her passion for adolescent women stems from her own ‘learning journey.’ Maria spent a great deal of time researching and exposing herself to her fellow women around the world. At first, Maria thought that aiding women in developing countries was the key, but soon enough, she found that it would have been too late. She then realized that the best time to help a woman was during her adolescent years, the very crossroad that determines how the girl is going to become a woman.
Maria Eitel’s Early Bio
Maria Eitel was born in 1963 in a neighborhood at the northern part of Seattle, Washington, to Greco–American parents. Her father ran a boat repair business in Seattle which was back then a small, ‘smelly pulp and paper town, depending on which way the wind blew.’ Maria has two siblings, an older brother and a younger sister, whom she often mediates to.
As young as five, Maria was already the family diplomat, sitting between her older brother and younger sister in the back seat of the car to keep the two from fighting. She had a natural talent with words, which came in handy in convincing her parents every time they went on a trip.
Growing up in a small yet booming town of Seattle meant that Maria was exposed to a simple life. In fact, during her very early years, Maria wanted to become an altar girl, something which quite got her parents concerned. Although Maria’s parents led a well to do life for their kids, they did not want to see their children following the same path as they did.
They wanted more for each of their children—a life that they believed their children would really be excited in living. It was not that Maria and her siblings were not content (in fact, it was actually the opposite; Maria and her siblings simply wanted to live the simple life when they were younger); but their parents knew that as the world went further, their children would have to keep up with it.
Because of this, Maria’s parents kept on encouraging their children to dream big. They instilled in their children, especially Maria, the notion that they could do whatever they wanted; it did not matter how far-fetched, unconventional and untraditional the dream was, as long as they worked diligently for it and were not afraid to fail.
Maria’s parents constantly reminded her, as well as her siblings, that failure was not an end to something—it was a means to learning. As she grew up constantly being reminded of this sentiment, it molded a personality in Maria that enabled her to never give up in the face of tremendous obstacles. As she went further in her childhood, Maria realized that the notion of having one’s gender used as an excuse to narrow their opportunities in life was wrong, and became determined to not let her gender keep her from dreaming big.
Even though Maria had quite a normal childhood, one trait did separate her from the other girls of her neighborhood—she was not afraid to get her hands dirty. As early as seven years old, Maria was already helping her father in his boat repair business, doing simple tasks, such as putting away the grease and oil that her father took out of the engines of the boats that he repaired. She recalls reveling at the smell of these things as she helped her father out in his job.
But while Maria did not mind what she was doing back then, she did keep on reminding herself that her life was far more than repairing boats or helping the priests during masses. Her parents teaching birthed in Maria a desire to seek a better, more exciting life, where she could really put her talents and skills into good use.
Having this desire in her, Maria spent a lot of time studying. While many of her classmates were out playing, Maria would spend time studying (of course, this did not make Maria a nerd, as she would at times also sneak out with her classmates to play outside), enabling her to graduate with excellent marks from her elementary studies.
When Maria was 15 years old, she decided to go to Switzerland to attend a boarding school. She drafted a proposal on why her parents should send her and how much it would cost for her to go and stay in the country, and presented it to her parents. And while the unconventional plans of Maria did not sway her parents into letting her go, her passion and diplomatic skills did.
With the blessing of her parents, Maria went out of the United States to Switzerland, bringing nothing but a non-roller suitcase (something that she learned to never do again), and staying for a year to study. While there, Maria became very excited and fascinated with life beyond her country’s borders. She got exposed to many things there and learned that there was more to her boring life giving her the desire to explore the world much more.
Eventually, though, she had to return to Seattle, and upon her return, Maria applied for a small-town New England college to finish her secondary studies. Back to her old, ‘boring’ life, Maria soon realized that her one–year stay in Switzerland was not enough and that she wanted to see more of the world.
Maria’s Early Career
And so, after she graduated from secondary school, she asked her parents if she could go overseas for her university studies. Although quite reluctant in letting their daughter leave again, Maria’s parents eventually arrived at a proposal that she found quite interesting—to study at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. When her father asked if the university was ‘overseas enough’ for her, Maria happily answered yes. She left for Montreal the following week and enrolled at the McGill University, where she did not commit herself to any specific program—Maria was looking at her options, and wanted to try everything out a bit.
While at the university, Maria was unlike most of her fellow American students. She was not afraid to explore her new world, and even went to places where her fellow American classmates would not. She took delight in going around the city, meeting with the people living there, and even got a boyfriend from Saguenay, which impressed her roommate.
When Maria was in her junior year, she took a course in television production, which she immediately took a liking to. Because of her interest in TV production, Maria decided that she wanted to become a journalist. During the summer of her junior year, Maria tried to apply for an internship at the PBS affiliate in Seattle, but was disappointed when she found out that the station did not grant any internship. In spite of this, Maria continued her application and eventually got to talk to the station director who hired her for a job of making coffee and photocopies.
Although this was not what she wanted to do, Maria nevertheless happily accepted the position and diligently worked her way up the ladder. In just a short while, her superiors were impressed with her skills that they made her do research for the stories. One day, the reporter Maria was paired with had to be absent due to illness. Maria saw this as an opportunity to try reporting out and asked her superior if she could fill in for the reporter temporarily. She did so well that the station promoted her into making her own stories.
Maria Works for the White House
Maria then went back to complete her studies at McGill University and in 1983, graduated with bachelor’s degrees in Communications (French Language) and Humanistic Studies. After her graduation, Maria immediately applied for Georgetown University to study foreign affairs and economics. While there, Maria diligently studied her subjects to learn more about her journalism career. Maria graduated from Georgetown University in 1988 with a master’s degree in Foreign Service and Economics with high marks.
Maria’s journalism career was a learning experience for her. Although Maria did exceptionally well in her job as a journalist, her career building path also taught her that her plans in life did not always go according to plan, and that she had to be resilient and persistent if she wanted to bring her dreams into fruition.
During her years in Georgetown University, Maria applied for an entry position at an NBC affiliate at Seattle. While she did perfectly well in her work there, she did not get the promotion that she wanted. In spite of this disappointment, Maria did not waver in her determination to succeed as a journalist. After her graduation, she went back to Montreal to apply for a job at CBC, unfortunately, the application fell through and Maria ended up translating medical supply catalogues at the basement of her boyfriend’s parents’ home.
These disappointing experiences would have caused anyone to quit, but not Maria. Her persistent attitude kept her from making the mistake of giving up. She took the time to learn more about her field of work, diligently pursuing her career in spite of failing a couple of times. Eventually, Maria’s determination caught the attention of David Demarest, who was the White House communications director at that time. When he interviewed Maria, David was very interested in Maria’s optimistic and cool personality, something he saw was lacking in the White House. He said of Maria in an interview made with him:
“Maria was a consummate professional—cool under pressure, with lots of grace and good humour. Those qualities were often in short supply at a place like the White House, as it’s a workplace often characterized by pressure, power politics, and prima donnas.”
Maria eventually landed a job at the White House as a member of the media affairs division of George H. W. Bush’s administration. Through sheer tenacity and hard work, Maria was able to climb the ladder and eventually served as an official spokesperson for President Bush himself. She also started managing major White House communications initiatives, where Maria got to meet with people such as Nelson Mandela and Michael Jackson.
Maria’s life was moving uphill at this point. However, along with her career success came an unexpected, yet rewarding turn of events—she became pregnant. It wouldn’t have been that bad if the father of her child supported her. But to her dismay, he left her. She gave birth to a baby girl who she named Alexandra, and decided to raise her daughter as a single mom. Backed by the determination of never giving up in spite of the numerous negative experiences, Maria successfully juggled her White House career and single parenting, in spite of the two both being magnanimous tasks.
From White House to Microsoft
After leaving her White House work in the mid-90s, Maria brought her daughter, Alexandra, to Paris and settled there, after receiving an offer from the Microsoft Corporation for a job building their European Headquarters. Starting out as a director for public affairs, Maria’s hard work and diligence caused her to get the attention of her superiors. Eventually, they promoted her to Senior Manager for the European Affairs group. This enabled Maria to give her daughter, Alexandra, a good childhood in spite of not having a father to support her both financially and emotionally.
From Microsoft to Nike
In 1996, while Maria was still working with the European branch of Microsoft, she received a call from a Nike human resources official who was looking for someone to help the company recover from a public relations disaster. Upon doing research, Maria stumbled upon an article by Life magazine about a boy named Tariq. He was shown surrounded by pieces of a Nike soccer ball, which he spent the entire day stitching. It implied that Nike employed children thereby violating children’s rights. It sparked controversy about Nike’s labor and production ethics.
Initially, Maria did not think of this as a good opportunity. She even once thought that nobody would be dumb enough to take on the job, but when Mark Parker, a high ranking officer at Nike, personally called Maria to ask if she was willing to fly to the Oregon headquarters for a meeting, she immediately agreed. She said in an interview later on:
“I thought, ‘That’s pretty cool [that he called me directly] and it’s close to my family.’ I’d been a single mom for years. I’d dragged my daughter along to a ridiculous amount of stuff. Alexandra was really good at coloring during meetings.”
Maria Eitel’s Nike Bio
Upon her arrival, Maria met with the Nike Oregon team. Over the course of three days, Maria got convinced that Nike was indeed firmly committed to solving the issue no matter what it took. This caused her to bring her daughter to Oregon, which was near her parents’ home.
She accepted Nike’s offer to become the company’s first ever vice president for corporate responsibility and worked with the company to fix its image. When she was asked by one of the officers how long it would take for the changes to be made, Maria simply replied, “Five years.”
It turned out quite longer. Over the course of the next seven years, Maria and her team extensively dealt with sexual harassment charges, health issues, and disturbing child labor allegations. It was tough work, and the road was filled with numerous challenges and obstacles, but Maria kept on pursuing the goal of restoring Nike’s public image.
Throughout the years of work and research, Maria was able to help Nike transform its culture by instituting an agenda of corporate responsibility that included environmental sustainability, fair labour practices, and investment in communities from where Nike drew its workers.
She also had Nike make sure that its suppliers adhered to modern environmental and labor standards by having them sign a code of conduct. This included increasing the minimum age of workers in its factories to eighteen years old, and mandating the factories to follow U.S. standards for indoor air quality. Through the work she did, Maria realized soon enough that this problem was something that Nike not only had.
“This was an industry issue, not just a Nike issue. Nike was chosen as a symbol because it was a ubiquitous brand.”
Seven years after Maria was signed as Nike’s vice president for corporate responsibility, the company sported a new image—it had become a role model of what it means to be a responsible company. It rose from being on the brink of becoming a corporate pariah to being ranked tenth in the one hundred best corporate citizens, something that really impressed and surprised its competitors.
Through Maria’s diligence and hard work, the company became a standard on the treatment of human rights and environmental issues. It did take its toll on Maria, as when she finally achieved her goal of restoring Nike’s public image, she felt burned out and simply wanted to move on. However, Phil Knight, a Nike executive, encouraged Maria to stay by asking her what she really wanted to do.
Founding the Nike Foundation
Maria’s involvement in working with human rights issues and workplace sexual harassment led her to a bigger realization—even if the problem of workplace sexual harassment was dealt with, what would stop the girl from being mistreated when she came home at the end of the day? This lit up a fire in Maria that gave her the idea to bring Nike’s corporate responsibility department to another level.
After Phil challenged her in coming up with a plan to do this, Maria soon initiated the development of the Nike Foundation, which she believed, would bring the Nike in a bigger role in the world.
In 2004, the Nike Foundation was established, with Maria being its first president. Through the foundation, Maria was able to expand her aiding efforts beyond the company’s corporate responsibility limits by putting emphasis on helping adolescent girls. During a presentation that she made in a Nike boardroom that year, Maria let fly her plan to focus the foundation’s efforts into helping the more than 250 million young women all around the world.
After the presentation, Maria received a standing ovation from the board, who were very impressed with her passion and determination in helping adolescent women. In an interview made with Maria later on, she stated:
“In the end, Phil gave it a thumbs-up. I had a smile I couldn’t wipe off my face for days. For this powerful, driven sports company to choose to stand behind this 13–year–old girl, it’s ridiculously hopeful for all the Kidans in the world.”
Marie Sees a Pattern on How Women Use their Salary
Marie was further motivated to help girls when she heard of factual figures. A 2003 study concluded that 90% of women's salary are invested back into their families, whereas only 30-40% of men's earnings get to be reinvested. Furthermore, as girls get higher education, they tend to marry later. The Girl Effect then was established to provide girls with education to maximize their full career potential. That's why as far as Marie is concerned, the best investment you can make “are adolescent girls.”
The Girl Effect Helps Adolescent Women
And so, with the blessing of Nike’s higher ups, Maria launched “The Girl Effect,” a project that aimed to help adolescent women around the world through various programs like education and support. And Maria was not alone in this. Soon enough, she collaborated with numerous other organizations, most notably the Novo Foundation headed by Peter and Jennifer Buffett, who Maria immediately took a liking to after meeting the couple for lunch and discussing the issue of women’s rights.
Today, the Nike Foundation and The Girl Effect have been successful in their efforts in providing aid to numerous adolescent women worldwide. Maria said in an interview:
“That’s what the early years at the Nike Foundation were all about: making our plans known and helping people to understand that this was a real and important issue. At first, nobody thought it was an issue, which meant no one was thinking about solutions. I’d talk to people and they’d say, 'Girls? Yeah sure, girls’ education.' And I’d say, 'No, I’m not talking about girls’ education, I’m talking about girls as a driving force of economic change on the planet.' The more we talked, the more people started to listen.”
Maria’s success in her career can be attributed to her ‘never say die’ attitude. Throughout her life, she has been faced with numerous challenges and disappointments that would have gotten her off track had it not been for her sheer determination in moving forward. She is a great example of what it means to pursue your dream, and what it means to do something great for the community. She said:
“I want people to be inspired to believe that seemingly intractable problems are solvable. It takes tenacity and hard work, but we have to stay ambitious. You can’t think, ‘Ah, I can’t solve that stuff, so why get involved.’ We need to get involved.”
The Ten Pillars of The Girl Effect (from Wikipedia)
Wikipedia has the following ten pillars where The Girl Effect Campaign was grounded on:
Let's See Some ID — many girls in the developing world do not have a formal birth certificate which then makes it near impossible for them to prove their age in order to avoid child marriage, open a bank account, vote, or even get a job.
Illiteracy Does Not Look Good on a Resume — a majority of the world's children who have left school are girls. This makes it hard for them to learn and advance as well as threatens their personal safety.
Pregnancy Does Not Look Good on a Little Girl — child marriage is a common practice in the areas where girls are marginalized. Their bodies are not considered their property and thereby are subject to violence and abuse.
The Face of HIV is Increasingly Young and Female — educating girls in HIV prevention has shown considerable results, but the girls also need to be supported to make empowered choices.
A Nice Place to Work Would Be Nice — girls need to be trained on financial literacy as well as given the proper opportunities to work in a safe environment which can provide training for their future endeavors leading to economic independence.
The Check is in the Mail But It's Going to Your Brother — a small percentage of the world' aid goes to girls, but when they are given the opportunity, she will reinvest them into the community at a much higher rate than her male counterparts.
Adolescent Girls Aren't Just Future Women — girls are living now, they deserve programs designed for them in the present, not for their future as mothers.
Laws Were Made to Be Enforced — many of the world' nations have laws to protect girls, but the key is ensuring that governing bodies are enforcing these laws in a consistent and fair manner.
She Should Be a Statistic — girls have been consistently left out of the research equation. Annual statistical reports need to be produced concerning the welfare of the world's girls.
Everyone Gets on Board or We're All Overboard — in order for this campaign to be effective, everyone needs to understand and buy into the campaign.
Nominated by President Obama
Because of Maria Eitel's work in Nike, she drew the attention of President Barack Obama, who appointed her to head the the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). However, Marie withdrew and cited "previously unknown health condition" as her reason in an email sent to Nicola Goren, then CEO of CNCS. Her withdrawal gravely disappointed the White House as they see Marie being the perfect person for the job. Nike, on the other hand, was pleased that Marie stayed with them.
Fast Company Includes Marie in their League of Extraordinary Women
In 2012, Maria Eitel made it to Fast Company's July/August issue being included in their League of Extraordinary Women for her work for the youth and media. Her profile in Fast Company's tribute reads: "The number one cause of death for 15- to 19-year-old girls is poverty. The Nike Foundation’s Girl Effect project strives to bring 50 million adolescent girls out of poverty by 2030. In the attempt to do that, Eitel is using all resources possible to keep girls healthy and educated." (Source: Fast Company)
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- The Nike Foundation
- The Girl Effect
- The Acumen Fund
- Millennium Promise
- Young Presidents Organization International
- Clinton Global Initiative
- 2012: Honorary Doctorate from Babson College