Champion of Change: Leila Darabi

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Leila Darabi is a storyteller. “I have always been a communications person,” she says. “My work has focused on translating scientific evidence into plain, simple language that policy makers and the media can understand. She began her career at the Guttmacher Institute, “I helped researchers talk to people who aren’t academics about why they did the research, and, on the flip side, trained advocates to back up their slogans with scientific evidence.” It’s an approach that she took to Planned Parenthood, where she led global communications, and continues to put into action as her role of Senior Vice President and Head of Engagement at the communications firm Corkery Group Unlimited. 

After studying a range of subjects including French, creative writing and international relations at Sarah Lawrence College, and interning with Human Rights Watch, Darabi knew that she wanted a career that combined an international focus with writing, but wasn’t sure about the particulars. She joined the Guttmacher Institute, which had just received a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to study and pregnancy and HIV prevention among adolescents in four African countries, and this proved to be a pivotal role. 

“I always tell people that many things helped me in my career, including very supportive colleagues and inspirational women I worked with,” says Darabi. Those supportive colleagues, and Darabi’s unique blend of skills, took her to West Africa early in her career. “When I started at Guttmacher one of the countries that our new project covered was Burkina Faso, and no one else on the communications team spoke French,” explains Darabi. She cites managing that first project in Burkina Faso as a critical milestone on the path to running much larger global initiatives. Darabi has also sought out opportunities to expand and strengthen her communications skills, even completing a Master’s degree at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. 

Now, Darabi’s career has come full circle. At Corkery Group Unlimited, she provides strategic counsel and support to health and policy clients, including her past employer Planned Parenthood. It’s work that Darabi finds varied and vital—after all, as she notes, “sexual and reproductive health touch every part of our lives.” 

Darabi is one of the many inspiring people selected as part of our Champions of Change campaign, which honors individuals who have made a difference in the lives of women and girls in the Metro New York area or globally.

Mary Luke