How Steph Price Uses Her Ad Background to Run a School in Haiti
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
WNW Member Steph Price was on a well-trodden path as a copywriter in New York's advertising industry. Then, in 2010, a massive earthquake rocked Haiti and Steph took a beat. "29, single, some money in the bank, and a job I could quit at any time… I knew I could do more. So I reached out to a friend in the non-profit world and soon enough, I bought a one-way ticket to Port-au-Prince." Her decision would drastically alter her life.
Steph found her footing in Haiti upon meeting a group of British volunteers who were holding informal English classes with local Haitians. "I was hooked. Not only did I fall in love with the students, I also I learned just how important English is to finding meaningful employment. (For reference, the average wage in Haiti is around $4 a day. English speaking jobs can earn 20x that.) In the years since I’ve helped shape the classes into what they are today – English in Mind Institute (EIM) - a 200+ person adult English school with vocational and leadership training, job placement, and an all-Haitian staff of teachers and administrators." It's one of the only non-profit adult English schools in Port-au-Prince. The evolution of EIM is incredible and constantly affirms Steph's decision to make a change.
Interestingly, Steph didn't have to turn her back on NYC advertising. She's currently a Creative Director at Co:Collective, racking up miles to and from New York and Port-au-Prince. It's not hard to imagine how the breadth of Steph's experiences in Haiti gives her a unique creative voice. Steph actually sees a lot of similarities in the seemingly disparate worlds. With teaching and advertising, "you’re figuring out how to take sometimes complicated topics and present them in a clear, memorable way that grabs people’s attention." The same goes for the complex challenges of branding and fundraising initiatives for English in Mind. "Being a copywriter doesn’t hurt."
In our interview below, Steph shines a light on how your advertising career can also become an advertising background for a secondary career in the nonprofit world. And why not start with English in Mind. EIM's 5th annual Back to School Haiti Fundraiser is on Thursday, September 14th at the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg. Not only does the event cover EIM’s operations for the upcoming school year, it’s also a great time. Members of our own WNW HQ team are consistently doing EIM volunteer trips and can vouch for its ability to change your life. Click here for tickets and fundraiser info.
Tell us a bit about your creative background. Who is Steph and how did she get here?
Well, I studied film in college. I thought I wanted to write screenplays, but as a good suburban girl from Virginia, I didn’t have much inspiration to pull from. I found that capturing shorter human truths came much easier, so I switched to writing commercials instead. Went to the Creative Circus in Atlanta and moved to NYC right after graduation. I’ve been bouncing around agencies ever since.
What were some of the challenges in launching your creative career?
I learned straight away at Circus how talented people in this industry are, and how stiff the competition can be. I had a mentor tell me that getting a job was 50% about your book, 25% your personality, and 25% your drive (how badly you want it.) While I was proud of the work in my portfolio, I knew it wasn’t enough for me to stand out, so I doubled down on meeting as many people as possible and working twice as hard. To this day, that’s still how I operate.
What do you see as the turning point in your creative development and career?
It really started with my first job at Lowe in New York. I was brought on as an unpaid intern, then as a freelancer, and then full time for 4 years. I just needed someone to be the first to take a chance on me and trust that I could do it. I learned so many valuable lessons those early years at Lowe, both how to create work and to manage all the other non-work aspects that come with the job. I met so many incredible people, traveled the world, won awards, got promoted twice and really launched my career there.
What’s English in Mind, and how did you come to shape the Institute?
When the earthquake hit Haiti in 2010 I was working as a freelancer. After a conversation with a coworker about wishing we could do more to help, I took a look at my life - 29, single, some money in the bank, and a job I could quit at any time… I knew I could do more. So I reached out to a friend in the non-profit world and soon enough, I bought a one-way ticket to Port-au-Prince.
Initially, I volunteered with a medical NGO, but later met a group of British volunteers who were holding informal English classes with local Haitians. Once I started going, I was hooked. Not only did I fall in love with the students, I also I learned just how important English is to finding meaningful employment. (For reference, the average wage in Haiti is around $4 a day. English speaking jobs can earn 20x that.)
In the years since I’ve helped shape the classes into what they are today – English in Mind Institute (EIM) - a 200+ person adult English school with vocational and leadership training, job placement, and an all-Haitian staff of teachers and administrators.
Are there any particular takeaways from what you learned in the traditional ad world that you apply to your work with EIM?
Surprisingly being a copywriter in advertising and running EIM has a lot more in common than I expected. First, teaching itself allows for a ton of creativity. Just like advertising you’re figuring out how to take sometimes complicated topics and present them in a clear, memorable way that grabs people’s attention. Similarly, outside of school when it comes to fundraising for the program I’ve to be able to articulate what we do and why it matters. And of course, there’s also a ton of writing involved, from grants to website copy, social media posts, newsletters… so being a copywriter doesn’t hurt.
It feels like there’s such a direct correlation between getting the word out the right way and the amount of good being done in turn. Is there added pressure to carefully brand nonprofit initiatives like English in Mind to maximize its effectiveness?
Haiti, in general, has a serious branding problem. Most Americans know that it’s poor and that’s about it. There’s this image of Haitians needing a ton of help, which admittedly was my impression too when I first came down. But I quickly realized that just like anyone, they aren’t looking for handouts but opportunities. Our students are amazing, funny, passionate individuals who just need an open door. At EIM, we’ve chosen to present the positives, focusing on what’s working in Haiti, rather than what’s not. Our school is also adults, not adorably photogenic children so we’ve had to work twice as hard to get people to care.
What are some of the challenges of doing non-profit work, in terms of the considerations that'd probably be overlooked by someone with only traditional agency experience?
When it comes to non-profit work at agencies, my general caution is to stay away from anything that presents an us-versus-them dynamic, whether intentionally or not. It’s easy to inadvertently present people in need as victims of some kind and the ones giving as heroes. Instead, try and bring as much dignity as you can, focusing on collaboration, not charity, and showing an unexpected side of the issue.
Any advice for fellow WNW members looking to get into the nonprofit world?
Do it, do it, do it. Advertising is a great career and I’m so grateful for it, but doing things that fill your soul is just as important. It can be hard to break into larger non-profits unless you fill certain skill sets, but there are many smaller, grassroots non-profits like ours that love having volunteers, where you can have an even greater impact. Idealist.org is a great resource for finding volunteer opportunities around the country and across the globe. We’ll also take you at EIM!
How can WNW members get involved helping EIM?
Come to Haiti with us! Another huge part of our work at EIM are these 10-day volunteer trips that we run, which provide a cultural exchange for both sides. My goal was to create something that anyone could be a part of, even copywriters ;). Over the years I’ve met some of the most amazing people this way who’ve had their lives changed and are now true leaders in our organization and beyond. All it takes is a first step. After you come back there are a myriad of other ways to stay involved in the program on an ongoing basis.
Get more info on our trips HERE.
One book, one movie, one show. Go.
Where the Sidewalk Ends, American Beauty, pumped for Stranger Things season 2.
What’s your most treasured possession?
My journals. I’ve written in one pretty much every day since I was 15 years old.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A Broadway actress – my mother was super into showtunes.
What do you do when Not Working?
That’s a tough one. When I’m not working for my job, I’m usually working for EIM in some capacity. But outside of that, I love to cook, see live music, play nerdy games, and watch Netflix.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard or received that all creatives should hear?
Be nice. Assholes may get ahead sometimes, but never win.
What’s next for you and English in Mind?
At the moment, I’m busy getting ready for our 5th annual Back to School Haiti Fundraiser on Sept 14th at the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg. You are all invited! Not only does the event cover EIM’s operations for the upcoming school year, it’s also a ridiculously good time.
Tickets and fundraiser info HERE.