Interview: Maria Cuomo Cole

Maria Cuomo Cole is the chairman of HELP USA and a film producer, and she is one of the 2012 Matrix Winners. We caught up with her and asked her about her career, the lessons she learned along the way and about being a communication’s professional in New York.   

Why homelessness struck her as a cause to embrace.
If one doesn’t have a secure home, it’s extremely difficult to impossible to achieve an independent healthy lifestyle and for an individual to pursue their potential or to care for a family. Home is really our essential global value. The world shares the importance of what a home means to an individual and a family. And I think everyone deserves a safe home.
 
Maria's proudest accomplishment.
For HELP USA, my proudest accomplishment would be the agency’s successful national growth through my tenure and our ability to help move individuals and heads of households into self-sufficiency. Personally, I am proud of my three wonderful daughters.
 
What does she teach her children about life?
That’s a big question. I hope my daughters continue to serve, to give of themselves, to share their talents and to create a life for themselves that’s in keeping with their passions and their dreams.
 
Why she thinks women will make an imprint on the world.
I think women today have to pay attention very carefully. I think that my generation has enjoyed the hard work and sacrifice of generations of women before us, and if we’re not careful, we could lose some of those advances for our daughters. And I do believe though, optimistically, that my daughters’ generation will repair the world and will solve a lot of the world’s most serious problems. I think they have the potential and the consensus, strength and ability to do so. I think it’s going to be the most exciting time for women’s achievements.
 
Lessons learned from her mom.
I’ve learned almost everything from my parents and continue to learn from them. From my mom, I’ve learned how to stay true to myself, how to pursue independent goals, interests and passions without taking too much from the people that depend on me.
 
Lessons learned from her dad.
From my father, I’ve learned that unless you’re giving and serving, unless you’re giving of yourself in the best way possible based on your own talents and god-given gifts, then you’re not living a full life. He taught me that a full life is about giving to the maximum of your potential. I’ve also learned from him the importance of continuing to grow intellectually. I’ve inherited his ceaseless sense of curiosity.
 
What is the importance of communication?
I believe that it’s through communication that we prosper and create change. That philosophy has grown with me through the years. I’ve implemented that philosophy in my personal and my professional life. In my service work, communication has been key to satisfy advocacy. Advocacy is communications. You cannot affectively advocate unless you’re educating the public about the constituency you’re serving, the issue, the cause. So, I’d say public education can only be achieved through affective communication and allowing and empowering others to tell and share their stories and advocate for themselves. My film work has been inspired by the same objectives and goals — to educate the public about important issues through the stories of real individuals.
 
Her husband started out selling shoes. How many pairs of shoes does she own?
That’s unfair (laughs)! I do not have a gluttonous appetite for shoes. I can appreciate them without having to own them, thankfully. I do have quite an impressive collection of Kenneth Cole footwear from the mid-80s. From his start, Kenneth and I have been together for over 25 years, so I’ve been lucky and fortunate to watch him grow his remarkable business. But more than that, watching him create a new genre of communicating with the public and consumers about socially relevant issues.
 
Favorite ad of her husband’s company.
Kenneth has always been progressive with his messaging. Almost 20 years ago, he ran a campaign called “The Place of a Woman.” It was a series of ads and one of the most memorable was “The place for a woman is…in the White House.” He’s always had feminist sensibilities and been very supportive of women’s progress and independence. Just another thing to love about him.
 
Her favorite place in New York.
I think the streets of New York really define our culture, our crazy maddening, ever-interesting, changing city, which you can only really experience on the streets.
 
How do you chillax?
Family time and friends. That’s one world for us. Our children have grown up as part of our lives and our friends. I cherish all of those memories and moments that we’re lucky enough to share.