On Friday, October 11th, we will celebrate International Day of the Girl – an energy-infused day designated by the United Nations to “highlight and address the needs and challenges girls face, while promoting girls’ empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights.” With posters from last month’s climate strike still in our living rooms, and the impassioned words of Greta Thunberg ringing in our ears, this year’s Day of the Girl theme GirlForce: Unscripted and Unstoppable feels more apt than ever. Young activism is on the rise, and the role models paving the way are getting braver and more eloquent by the day.
And role models matter.
“Advocates champion a better world not just with their words,” notes Ellevate CEO Kristy Wallace in her article about intentionally raising an activist, “but with their actions.” Truer words were never spoken – and we wanted to hear more of them. So, Être hopped on the phone with Kristy to learn more about what makes young activism effective and why the right role models – starting earlier than you might expect – mean everything for future change-makers.
Ê: Thank you so much for talking with us! After last month’s Climate Change Summit and hearing from girls our age like Greta Thunberg, what strikes you most about young activists today?
KW: I’ve been so impressed by how knowledgeable they are – about the issues, the statistics and why they matter. And they’re expressing it in their own words. I think the skills these teens are developing – how to advocate for themselves and having the data to back it up – will serve them well throughout their lives. It’s been very impressive on a number of fronts.
Ê: We agree, and we’re cheering like crazy for them! But we bet it’s hard for some kids to assume these roles…they lose their privacy so early and have to deal with all kinds of adult criticism. Despite that, do you think their youth makes them more effective?
KW: When we think about events like Parkland, the young advocates become the face of that movement. And it is a lot to place on their shoulders…a big burden. But, I think their youth is driving the power of their message. Their voices are not tied down in politics; not dragged down by the drama and infighting that can happen with adults. Their message is so pure…such a clear delineation of right and wrong – I think this makes their words unquestionably more effective.
Ê: Completely. We’ve seen a staggering number of girls speaking up on important topics (Emma Gonzales, Mari Copeny, Sophie Cruz, Jazz Jennings, Marley Dias); do you think it is harder for young girls to speak up in these arenas? Or are their voices being heard more clearly today?
KW: Research has shown that girls mature earlier in these areas: social skills, emotional presence, and empathy – and it shows in these girls. When I stand up on a stage, it’s hard but I know my ability to do it is important. The fact that these girls have the emotional and social maturity to handle their positions as advocates is fantastic…and powerful.
Ê: What about you? When you were our age, were you an activist like that?
KW: I think so! As a girl I was always an advocate in my community for issues like education and environmental preservation. Those issues stayed with me, and in high school and throughout college my community service focus was on environmental issues like ocean clean up. It’s a big reason why I took all three of my kids to the climate march – it’s an issue they care deeply about and it’s never too soon to start!
Ê: Tell us about that day! How did you bring up the idea of the march and what did they think?
KW: I brought my son to the Ellevate #MobilizeWomen Summit this year, and he was struck by a panel on the environment with Patagonia, B Lab and World Wildlife Fund. The panel was asking what companies are doing to create change, and my son turned to me to ask what we could do. Taking him (and my daughters) to the climate march was a natural next step.
We talked about the big issues, made posters and decided that, “our voice matters.” Watching them engage on the topic and make themselves heard was meaningful to me, and reminded me how important it is for adults to be real and impactful role models for the next generation.
Ê: We couldn’t agree more…mentors matter at a really young age! Where are other places that girls like us can find role models to encourage young activism?
KW: Role models are everywhere! Teachers, parents and organizations like Girl Scouts can all be role models! The Girl Scouts have badges for advocacy, and the entire organization is rooted in striving to create a better world! The idea is to find groups that are focused on solutions to problems that matter to you – homelessness, the environment, separated families, gun control – and then to pinpoint how you can change that, collectively. One of my favorite things about the Girl Scouts Gold Award is the way it allows girls to create change on a micro level that effects macro change.
Ê: We love the Girl Scouts! And, in fact, Meridith Maskara, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Greater New York, told us something similar, saying:
Civic engagement and activism are and always have been at the heart of Girl Scouting. The 107-year-old mission of Girl Scouting is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place, and every day I see girls putting those characteristics to use by raising their voices. In fact, if you don’t have all three of those qualities you won’t make it very far as an advocate.
And, she wanted to remind girls that they can start anytime!
From the age of five, Girl Scouts follow a simple but powerful formula: identify the problem, connect with others to develop a solution, and take action. Today in New York City, Girl Scouts are making change by organizing park clean ups in their neighborhoods, creating anti-bullying campaigns in their schools and online, promoting tolerance and inclusion in their communities, and even testifying to the City Council. I know today’s Girl Scouts are tomorrow’s congresswomen, US Senators, and changemakers.
We know it too. It seems like Girl Scouts – and later on organizations like Ellevate that cultivate women’s confidence through mentorship – are good places to find role models as we get older and enter the workforce. Is that what you envision when you look at your daughters?
KW: At Ellevate we want to build awareness. Whether the issue is the gender pay gap (and by the way, research is showing that two out of three people don’t even believe a pay gap exists), diversity and inclusion or champions in the workplace, we want to provide the right tools, resources and community support for all women. Role models and mentors become networks, and it’s important to tap into networks that broaden your mindset and really make you think. New perspectives – that’s what leads to collective action.
Ê: We’ll be ready! And we love all the role model quotes that Ellevate lets us post on our website! What would you say to girls today who want to take action but feel underestimated or underrepresented, because we can’t vote and aren’t always invited to where the decisions are made?
KW: I hear you. And frankly, changes to voting laws are something that bears considering. But regardless of the voting age, your voice matters. You might not be able to vote, but you can influence those who can. And that matters a lot. Share your views. Change minds. Raise awareness. And never, ever underestimate your power.
Girls, hear that? Never, ever underestimate your power. As we head into Day of the Girl, and we take part in all the celebrations and marches that follow, hold fast to the issues you care about. Raise your voice in support or protest. Appreciate and relish your power. Role models like Kristy are watching.
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Être is a free mentorship platform that brings girls directly into companies to meet global female leaders. Être is grateful to organizations like Girl Scouts and Ellevate for recognizing that mentors matter as early as middle school. Être’s first book “Être: Girls, Who Do You Want To Be?” releases on October 11th – Day of the Girl.