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WomanOf The Month 6-09: Sylvia Allen

As a young girl growing up in a suburb of Minneapolis, MN, Sylvia Allen, of Holmdel, N. J., has always persevered against disparaging gender-based inequities; generally leveraged against her for being female.

Allen was a born entrepreneur, as she started her own business, selling holiday and gift cards door to door when she was 12. She told her mother she wanted cashmere sweaters like everyone else in her school. Her mother said, “Get a job,apostrophe so … she did. It was so successful that when she went off to college her customers complained!

Following high school graduation, Allen attended the University of Minnesota, where she received her B.A. in Speech and Theatre Arts. Upon graduation, she went to work in radio and television in Minneapolis. It was while she was working television, producing a daily 15-minute woman’s show and a daily two-hour talk show that she encountered the discrimination that made her move to New York. When she asked the executive producer for a credit line, “Produced by Sylvia,apostrophe he refused. When pushed as to why, he said “Because you are a woman.apostrophe “That’s fine,apostrophe she said. “I quit.apostrophe That was May 1965 and by June 1965, she was settled in New York City!

Allen has worked in a wide range of organizations including Videotape Center, Teletape Productions, Leacock-Pennebaker (where she worked with Bobby Dylan, Truman Capote and Norman Mailer, to name just a few.) In addition, she has worked for Fortune 500 companies including McGraw-Hill Publishing and AT&T.

In 1979, when it was still frowned upon for women to even be offered managerial roles within corporate culture, Allen charged forth, starting her own company altogether, Allen Consulting. Three decades later, Allen has taken her internationally recognized marketing firm to glorious new heights. As one of New Jersey’s leading PR agencies, Allen Consulting has been heralded for its ability to provide brass ring media relations services to both for-profit and non-profit organizations for 31 years, and has arguably become a cornerstone in the reinvention of many of New Jersey’s downtowns. Last year alone, her firm produced more than 100 events and raised over $1 million worth of sponsorships for clients. She has represented clients such as the PNC Bank Arts Center, the San Gennaro Festival in New York and the world renowned Iditarod in Alaska.

In 1990, while teaching at New York University and running her business full-time, she decided she needed to go to graduate school so she registered at Empire State College, where she graduated Cum Laude with an M.A. in Culture and Policy.

Allen has been honored with over 50 awards including the Garden State Women-Owned Business of the Year award, Top 50 Women in Business in New Jersey award, ATHENA Award and the Girl Scouts Woman of Distinction Award.

But Sylvia Allen is not only a lauded entrepreneur, she is also an internationally recognized author, having written four books including “A Women’s Guide to Sales Successapostrophe and “How to be Successful in Sponsorship Sales,apostrophe as well as numerous articles on sponsorship sales and marketing. She is also a fundraising consultant and sponsorship sales expert, who frequently tours the world, traveling to countries like China, India, Ireland and Iceland, to present seminars about selling sponsorships. And in 2006, she was inducted into the International Festival & Events Hall of Fame.

Allen is also a teacher, having been an Adjunct Associate Professor of Marketing and a Program Advisor for New York University for over 20 years. She has commanded leading board positions for myriad organizations, including being the co-founder of Women in Sports and Events (WISE), the Vail International Multi-Image Festival and the American Sandsculpting Championship; Past President of the Jersey Shore Public Relations and Advertising Association (JSPRA) and Tower Hill Choir; and Past Chair of the Sponsorship Committee of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, among a handful of others.

In 2003, Allen, who was at the top of her game, professionally speaking, decided to travel to sub-Saharan Africa as part of a volunteerism trip with World Vision, and never expected to encounter such a life changing experience, causing her to start her own non-profit organization, Sylvia’s Children.

She founded the organization following a journey to Masaka, a small village in the African country of Uganda, where she came across hundreds of children who had been left orphaned by the devastating AIDS pandemic plaguing their community.

Before departing, Allen was asked by the head of the Mbiriizi Advanced Primary and Day School to be the adopted grandmother of the children, the highest honor in the culture. She graciously accepted this new role, but not without declaring her life’s new mission: to raise awareness and funds to better the lives of the children by providing them with education, shelter, food and clothing.

Allen and her team of committed volunteers have since had the opportunity to make a notable difference to this village and its residents. Sylvia’s Children has raised over $250,000; has dedicated a library stocked with books; has built four classroom blocks; and has constructed a fresh well, a dormitory to house the students, and housing for the teachers, to name just a few of the things they have accomplished. The organization has also installed computers with Internet access and has supported the children with endeavors that help cultivate their creative juices, by donating musical instruments and sporting equipment. Additionally, Sylvia’s Children has brought a dentist to the school, as well as nurses, one of which has treated such disorders as Syphilis and umbilical hernias.

Sylvia’s Children has so far been able to sponsor over 200 of the school’s orphans, which equates to one third of the 1,000 students attending the school.

No task is ever too big for Allen, as her goals for the next two years include the acquisition of seven acres of land allowing the school to operate a chicken farm, supplying the children with protein and bringing a source of revenue for the shrunken economy, and a sewing trade, in which the children can learn to sew, while local widows can come stitch uniforms for the students. Additionally, she would like to implement a fair-trade coffee business allowing the sale of coffee beans to be exported directly to other countries.

Allen then plans to have an eight-year model of African entrepreneurship completed in two years, which can be taken to similar underserved African schools, in order to give them tools to create sustainable economies by incorporating Social Capitalism into their systems by way of a grassroots plan.

She is currently in the process of writing a book entitled Single Points of Light Illuminating Darkest Africa, which will feature a collection of chapters, each one spotlighting one person who is making a difference in Africa. Following the book, Sylvia plans to start another non-profit called ‘Single Points of Light,apostrophe which will expand on her current plans, opening them up to the rest of the sub-Saharan African continent.