For Fay Johnson, a South African who visited more than 26 countries before finishing high school, creating the publication deliberateLIFE gave her a new avenue to pursue international development.
“While on a trip to Kenya for a consulting client, I just was spending some time reflecting on what I was going to do with the next 10 years of my life, and I wanted to do something that had the opportunity to bridge a lot of these areas that were important to me and reach a broader audience,” Johnson said.
A former staffer on the House Foreign Affairs subpanel that oversees Africa and global health issues and for the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, Johnson also spent time with Human Rights Watch, Oxfam and other global development organizations before founding deliberateLIFE last summer. Johnson described it as a lifestyle publication combined with an e-commerce platform, and she said she hopes to avoid the pitfalls of traditional media with what she considers a startup in the publishing world.
“I’ve always had a passion for photography and for design and for creativity and that was one thing that was often missing in my life while I was in D.C.,” Johnson said. “I just set up to teach myself how to be a publisher; I have no background in publishing and no background in technology but set out to do this and it’s been going really well.”
Johnson’s Hill work included stints with Virginia Republican Rep. Frank R. Wolf and the late New Jersey Democratic Rep. Donald M. Payne. The self-described “lifelong social entrepreneur” said she became a political wonk after seven years in the District, but she said her African roots have stuck with her.
“I think that has been a lot of my fascination with D.C. and with politics — I wanted to have an inside perspective on why people were making the decisions that they were or weren’t and what was being valued and how it related to the American public,” Johnson said. “There’s just so many things that one learns while working on the Hill, and I don’t think I appreciated it enough in retrospect; I think I probably would have been on the Hill longer if I had known what I know now.”
Traveling at an early age also affected Johnson’s perspective.
“I saw extreme poverty at a very young age repeatedly — I saw it all the time,” she said. “When I was a kid, I just thought the adults must not know that this is happening or they would’ve done something about it. I think it was really formative on me having those kind of experiences, and because my parents work on these issues from a business standpoint, I think that’s also very ingrained in me that the most sustainable way to have an impact in these communities is for job creation.”
First published in January, the interactive publication with links to videos and products is released six times per year and includes articles, volunteer opportunities and a travel section. The magazine has more than 3,000 readers across 52 countries, which Johnson sees as a community of people making a positive impact.
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.