March 2009

Theresa Higgs brings her leadership studies education to work with her every day while she focuses on providing a variety of programs and volunteer opportunities designed to unite cultures through the international nonprofit organization, United Planet. It is an international organization that seeks to create a world in which all people understand, respect and support one another.

United Planet works to achieve this vision through placing volunteers internationally and therefore creating shared knowledge and a global network of leaders and volunteers who can foster cross-cultural understanding.

Higgs interned at UP as their Asia programs coordinator. Today, she is vice president for global operations. “The best part of my job is the incredible people I get to work with both in our Boston office and around the world," she said. "This makes for a dynamic and interesting work environment.”

Higgs credits her Jepson education for preparing her for the work she does with United Planet. “At Jepson we worked a lot in teams and I now oversee a team of eight people who represent six countries," she said. "I use lessons today that I learned at Jepson about how to navigate diverse teams to facilitate everyone contributing to their fullest potential.”

After graduating from the University of Richmond, Higgs served in the Peace Corps in the South Pacific and later earned a master’s degree in intercultural relations at Lesley University.

Her work at United Planet complements her interest in the international community. “I am so lucky to have the chance to travel to countries in all regions of the world," she said, "and get a glimpse into new ways of life and different worldviews. Yet despite our differences, we are all connected through our passion for the same mission — fostering greater cross-cultural understanding and addressing our world’s shared challenges through community involvement.”

Of all of her travels, Cusco, Peru and Ghana remain her most memorable. While in Peru, Higgs was amazed at the ancient Incan ruins that she describes as “phenomenal — from the smaller sites near the city to Macchu Picchu — truly a wonder. Cusco is settled in valleys high in the Andes with breathtaking landscapes and so much to see and explore.”

Ghana brought a different point of view to Higgs as she experienced the 50th Anniversary of Ghana’s Independence. “There was such celebratory energy filled with pride and joy.” Sharing that experience gave her “a little more perspective on why so many African countries are struggling. It is no wonder when they are so young.” During her trip she also visited the coast where Dutch colonists enslaved the local people and shipped them abroad. “I had never felt so ‘white’ in my life and I felt the weight of what this means in a very different context,” Higgs said.

And yet while visiting a local village that United Planet has partnered with, the chief of one of the villages named her the “Queen Mother of Development,” an honor she greatly appreciated. The youth are motivated to develop their community and with the help of United Planet “we have seen incredible things happen here with the input of the volunteers we are able to send and the work they do in cooperation with the youth group and the village elders,” she said.

In addition to Ghana and Peru, each day she “navigates the cultures of almost 50 countries to create programs that are meaningful.” Her work has taken her throughout the world to Costa Rica, Honduras, China, Japan, Thailand, Jordan and Kenya, just to name a few. When traveling for work she stays with host families, trains United Planet program coordinators and assesses the program while also meeting with local organizations.

Throughout it all, she is “always amazed at the common denominators that bring people together at the end of the day, no matter how different we may seem on the surface.”

Stay in touch with Higgs on the Jepson in the World blog.