By Carol Masshardt
Endless passion, energy and focused commitment describe the new Executive Director of Big Sister Association of Greater Boston, former second place mayoral candidate in the City of Boston and City Counselor at Large for eight years and current small business owner, Annissa Essaibi George. Everything she does is about service and community with a well-honed leadership style that started in childhood when at twelve she had an eye on elected office in her future.
“The common thread in everything I do and have done is about service and creating community. Here at the Stitch House (the place of this interview on a cold Saturday night during a class in sweater making), we are about a community that is comfortable and where new things are possible,” she said.
Annissa re-creates herself with purpose every step of the way and is doing so again in her new role.
“Big Sister is a great fit. So, I lost the mayors race and had to think about how I could use my time for impact. Just be chance, this opportunity came about, and I thought that it would be a great place to use what I have learned. The goal is helping girls develop their own voice and ignite their passions. This is something I have been able to do,” she said.
As quickly as she knits beautiful pieces with hand and head spinning precision, she also cites statistics that only two percent of philanthropy is devoted to girl specific programs, and the dramatic loss of a girl’s sense of herself as “brilliant” when compared to boys by age six. Her focus and familiarity of these and similar compelling datasets provide a glimpse into the effectiveness she is bound to bring to the role she began two weeks ago.
“The model of one person who can share time with you, truly, is something spectacular,” she said. “You need to have a dynamic in your life at every step where there is someone you can learn with, it is mutual, and that leads to taking risks and seeing opportunities.”
Annissa Essaibi George is the enactment of courage in the face of challenge that started generations ago; with a father from Tunisia to a mother born in a German labor camp, and both who developed capacities to provide for and secure education for their family of four. She has remarkable stories about her parents, who learned multiple languages, and her father, who went to work in facilities at BU so his children could attend and picked up degrees himself. Through eyes open, mind and heart engaged their oldest child continues this legacy.
“I try to teach my kids, (four boys) that you don’t have to win, but I’m not raising spectators. Through being uncomfortable, you learn, and the only way to learn hard things is by doing it,” she said. “I learned so much through teaching, it was a form of constituent services, and then on the council and running this business, and the campaign for mayor. I have had incredible opportunities.”
When asked if anyone can learn to knit, even with failed prior attempts, she as is typical, avoids a fluff feel-good response but is nonetheless encouraging.
“You know, sometimes it is about who teaches you, and it should be fun. It takes time, and here we have a place of doing it together and that is how to do it,” she said.
The teacher, politician, candidate, mother, executive speak in one voice born of deeply held values. Though she did not snag the mayor’s office she delights in the women who are holding office at every level.
“Sure, it is good for girls. They see that they can have a place, and nothing is out of reach. It’s good for boys, too, to see the world fairly as it is.”
So, what is in store for this remarkable woman who has already achieved great things personally and professionally?
“I am committed and so excited about my job at Big Sister (and she again cites interesting statistics about the organization with confidence and pleasure.) Beyond that, who knows? You always have to be prepared for new opportunities and challenges. Service will lead.”
For now, her attention is with a knitting student, Immunologist, Jesica Jacobs, who while knitting a sweater talks about women in STEM fields, and Annissa Essaibi George is listening carefully while also responding seriously to my questions, eating dinner, chatting with drop in customers, and readying herself for holidays and week three of an exciting new job. This only begins her activities yet to come that evening. She has a way of listening to many things nearly simultaneous and responding with impressive attunement.
I shared with her the oft stated impression that she never sleeps, and she quickly and jokingly responded, “I love to sleep,” and then started to share the details of how she might fit that in in her joyfully engaged week ahead.
(Carol Masshardt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)