Serena Williams: A Powerful Serve, and a Powerful Commitment to Service
Giving Back off the Court, from Education to Healthcare to Justice
Since breaking onto the professional tennis scene in 1995, Serena Williams has used her celebrity to benefit people of all ages, around the world.
"My parents raised us in a home where giving back was a normal part of life," she says. "As I've gotten older, I've realized how lucky I am to see the difference generosity makes in a person's life. It brings me a lot of joy."
She is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, working closely with the Schools for Asia campaign, and has visited Ghana to take part in a health initiative. Her Serena Williams Foundation partnered with Build Africa Schools and Hewlett Packard to create the Serena Williams Secondary School in Kenya and provides college scholarships to students in the United States.
She has also worked with I Heart My Girlfriends, Small Steps Project, The HollyRod Foundation, World Education, Common Ground Foundation, Elton John AIDS Foundation, Eva Longoria Foundation, Great Ormond Street Hospital, Hearts of Gold, Beyond the Boroughs National Scholarship Fund, OWL Foundation, and others, and often plays in charity tennis tournaments.
"I'm very passionate about giving back to children," she says. "I think we can all relate to the child in us and what it's like to have big dreams."
Williams also focuses on helping victims of violent crimes. "I just started working with the Equal Justice Initiative. It's an amazing organization and one that has a lot of potential to change lives." It's an issue close to her heart, as her older half-sister, Yetunde Price, was murdered in 2003. Williams also recently partnered with the Caliber Foundation, a non-profit that strives to end gun violence.
A Powerhouse on the Court, and in The Corner Office
With a busy training and competition schedule, plus the philanthropic work, Williams still finds time to run a business.
The 21-time Grand Slam champion is the founder of Aneres, a clothing line she launched in 2003 and relaunched in 2014. She serves as much more than a figurehead with the brand. "I'm involved in all the designs and I collaborate with a great team," she says. "It's a lot of work, but something that I really enjoy. And I have to admit, those all-nighters on [the Home Shopping Network] aren't easy … but they're so much fun."
Williams earned more in endorsements last year (about $13 million) than she did on the court (just under $12 million), through deals and sponsorships with major brands. Perhaps her best-known business endeavor involves a different sport: She and her sister Venus are limited partners in the ownership of the Miami Dolphins.
"I consider Florida my home state and I thought it would be a really fun thing to do with Venus," she explains.
Whether working in philanthropy, football, or fashion, she says, it all comes down to the same approach.
"It takes teamwork to run a business and do it all. Remember to embrace your team and empower them in the work they do. And enjoy your life. It's really important to create a healthy work-life balance."
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Danielle Elliot is a freelance journalist based in New York. She has written features for National Geographic, The Atlantic, Grantland, Vice Sports, Yahoo Sports, and other outlets. She has produced for NBC, Fox Sports, and others.