At ten years old, Tracey Abbott learned a lesson about the world that many adults never do. All around her she was hearing and absorbing frightening news stories and talk about the Russians. The message was that they were different, bad, out to get us. And then, one day, the message changed, thanks to the brilliance of one teacher who recognized the fear, threw out the textbooks and taught the class about Russian history and culture. Tracey says that was the spark that ignited a passion and, ultimately, a mission…
“Taking something that’s seemingly as different as different cultures in the world and showing people that we’re so much alike and so much the same.”
Tracey has spent much of her adult life traveling and working around the world, from Western Europe to the Middle East, to Africa and points in between. She has a successful, corporate career but, along the way, realized that something was missing.
“Business lacks the heart and soul – it’s got to be bigger than stock price and shareholder value.”
So, two years ago during a fellowship at the Aspen Institute, Tracey decided she could combine her greatest passions into a social enterprise.
“I love education, I love high school girls, they’re so much fun and have so much energy, I love travel and culture.” And she also loves running marathons all over the world. So, in 2013, Culture Relay was born.Culture Relay’s mission is to empower girls and create the female leaders of tomorrow through a virtual cross-cultural exchange built around running. To accomplish that,
Tracey went back to her roots in Birmingham, Alabama, connecting high school girls there with high school girls a world away. Each week, through a virtual classroom session, the girl’s spend an hour together on curriculum and then have one-on-one time with a buddy.
“For girls to run the world tomorrow, we have to connect them today.”
The program also holds virtual races, training the girls how to set goals, overcome challenges, develop grit and get results.
“It’s about relaying culture back and forth between girls here and girls in the Middle East…and also it’s a relay race. So we finished a race in Jordan – the Dead Sea Marathon and we hand over virtually to girls in Alabama and actually finished the race here.”
Once they cross the finish line, the students exercise all they have learned on local community projects with the help of business mentors set up by Culture Relay.
“I want others to succeed by really living a full life,” says Tracey. “I also want people to explore their boundaries, and use their fear to propel them forward to do the seemingly impossible.”
Those are words Tracey seems to live by, as she runs on parallel tracks, in two different worlds.
“I have worked for many senior executives in the for-profit world, but I have never seen true leadership the way I have in the world of social change.”
No doubt, Mrs. Maxwell, Tracey’s fourth grade teacher, would be gratified to know that the lesson she imparted so long ago, would impact the life of not just one young girl, but many more around the world.
“It’s about being bigger than ourselves and finding those commonalities in the world.”
In addition to Culture Relay, Tracey is Vice-President of Strategic Planning at Footlocker.