Senior Fellow Katie Higgins Hood (T ‘96) has taught Hart Leadership Program’s popular “Women as Leaders” course three times. No stranger to tackling tough causes, she addressed the issue of sexual assault on college campuses while at Duke, and focused on finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease as CEO of the Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF). In her new role as CEO of the One Love Foundation, she is now working to end relationship violence.
“The fact that 1 in 3 women will be in an abusive relationship is totally insane,” said Hood. “When you think about it, it’s very disturbing.”
The foundation was founded by Sharon and Lexie Love in 2010, in the wake of UVA lacrosse player Yeardley Love being beaten to death by her ex-boyfriend, George Huguely, in May 2010. One Love uses interactive content to raise awareness about relationship violence- especially among young people.
Hood became CEO of One Love this summer after advising the foundation for years. While Hood has years of experience managing MJFF, as well as working for Goldman Sachs and Bain & Company, the leadership transition has not been easy.
“It’s incredibly fluid. The organization is growing quickly and we are hiring staff as we go,” she said. “Every single day has been different.”
On some days, that means setting up a printer and getting a new office space in Bronxville, NY, functional. On other days, it is fielding media requests, especially since the National Football League suspended player Ray Rice over domestic violence.
Hood was a program assistant for the Hart Leadership Program before attending Harvard Business School. After she stepped down as CEO of MJFF in 2011, HLP director Alma Blount offered her a chance to teach the “Women as Leaders” seminar, a cornerstone of the program.
The course used self-reflection, case-studies, and interviews with women leaders to understand the gender gap in leadership, why it matters and how students can prepare to become leaders themselves.
“Katie’s class has a way of empowering young women to believe that being a leader is for everyone under the right circumstances,” said Reese Sim (T’14), a former student.
While Hood will not be teaching her popular seminar in the spring, she works closely with her former student Melanie Sperling (T’14). Hood recruited Sperling to help with curriculum development for the One Love Foundation.
Sperling, also a Service Opportunities in Leadership (SOL) program alumnus, originally planned on starting graduate school in August. She then changed her plans when the offer came in July.
“As soon as she offered me the position, my heart said yes, this is what I want to do,” said Sperling.
Hood and Sperling are expanding the organization’s reach by targeting young people through engaging media, like a PSA and a mobile app. In October and November, Sperling will be running focus group workshops on a vivid educational film geared towards college students.
“It’s engaging and is unlike any educational video that you have ever seen,” said Sperling of the film. “You watch a relationship play out as if watching reality TV, or a film in a movie theater.”
Hood said she believes the foundation offers a new perspective by focusing on societal change and emboldening bystanders with the courage to do something.
“Activating our voices and refusing to stay in the dark is a critical step,” she said.
During Hood’s tenure as CEO of MJFF, she helped double the number of grants the foundation issued. MJFF is still the country’s largest private funder of Parkinson’s research. Hood said the foundation set the bar high to advance its goal of finding a cure for Parkinson’s.
“I learned at Fox that when you set goals that everybody thinks are undoable, or impossible, it forces a creativity and focus into your business that can lead to better results” she said.
Leaving the foundation was a tough decision for Hood, but one she felt was right for her young family. Within a few months, more flexible opportunities arose in which she found new loves as a teacher and advisor.
“Getting involved with One Love, first as an advisor and now as the CEO, is amazing. I feel filled with energy for doing something I love and helping it be great,” she said.