Girls Inc. inspires all girls to be strong, smart, and bold. With over 1,400 sites in 400 cities across the United States and Canada, the organization has grown tremendously since its founding in 1864. Through educational programming, mentorships, and advocacy, Girls Inc. focuses on providing girls everywhere the knowledge, resources, and opportunities to live healthy and productive lives.
This Women’s History Month, as we celebrate women’s historic achievements and recognize how their lives have shaped history - both past and present - we’re also looking towards the future at the next generation of fearless leaders. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with some of the women who are helping shape this next generation of leaders: Sonja Breda, Lauren Hernandez, and Hannah Lythe. Our conversation ranged from the importance of a sisterhood of support, the necessity of empowering all girls to create positive social change, and how EveryAction’s best-in-class nonprofit tools have been instrumental in helping Girls Inc. fulfill some of their most important goals.
I can’t think of a better organization to speak with during Women's History Month. Empowering women starts with empowering girls. How would you describe the mission of Girls Inc.?
Broadly, our mission is to inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold. We do that through our direct services, programming with our affiliates, and our advocacy work. We help girls overcome obstacles so they can grow up healthy, educated, and independent. That's a big part of our programming. Each of these different components tie back to empowering girls to be strong, smart, and bold.
We know that girls today face a number of obstacles in the world. In addition to providing direct services programming, we also really want to improve the landscape in which they grow up - including those living in poverty - so they face fewer obstacles and can achieve their full potential.
The Girls Inc. network spans across the United States and Canada. What aspects of your work are you most excited about and/or proud of?
I think what we're really proud of at Girls Inc. is how our work touches on all aspects of a girls life. We have 83 affiliates across the country and in Canada, and the mentoring relationships our staff and volunteers provide for each of our girls at our affiliates is instrumental to our mission.
Specifically, we're really excited about how our affiliates at the local level are engaging in advocacy. I think one of the greatest strengths of Girls Inc. is that all 83 affiliates are all their own individual nonprofits so they're able to meet the needs of their local communities. For instance, Girls Inc. of Memphis has taken on a three year project to prevent the building of a landfill right next to their affiliate and their local elementary school. It is a huge effort that really highlights the power of grassroots, advocacy, and getting girls engaged with advocacy.
Another area that’s really exciting is the Girls Inc. Girls Action Network which is a year long advocacy program that we just started this past year. It brings together a group of high school age girls from across the country to think about the issues that affect their lives and turn their passion into action. We help train them on how to mobilize and give them the tools to organize in their communities. Helping girls engage with their peers is really important work especially at a time when we know that youth action is super important and impactful.
The #MeToo movement which highlights sexual harassment and assault, particularly in male-dominated environments, is a huge turning point for what was previously a systemic culture of silence. Girls Inc. girls have even lent their voices to this powerful movement. How can we continue to encourage girls to speak out on these issues?
Statistically, we know that 1 in 4 girls will experience sexual abuse or assault before she turns 17. This is a horrifying statistic and furthers the need for girls' voices and their perspectives to be represented in the #MeToo movement. We believe that young people have the power to lead this change. In the past few months, we've seen young people courageously speak out on issues like gun violence and it’s because they have firsthand knowledge on these issues and they're the true experts in their own lived experience.
In terms of supporting our community, I think there are three major pieces involved. We need to help arm young people with the tools and resources they need to be successful, e.g. Girls Action Network. A number of our affiliates also have their own youth-led advocacy programs at the local level. Equipping our young leaders with the knowledge they need to successfully organize is critical. The second piece is making sure young people have the information they need. Specifically, empowering them with medically accurate, non-shaming, inclusive sexuality information and comprehensive sex education. They aren’t going to speak out on issues of sexual violence or what a relationship should look like if they don’t have the proper language to talk about it. The third piece is to really just listen to our young people and stand in solidarity with them. Adults have a huge responsibility to support young people using their voice and stand with them. On March 24th, girls across the country will join March For Our Lives and march for the reforms they want to see in their communities. That's really exciting. Our affiliates and staff want to support them in achieving the change they believe can improve the world.
Another huge issue is the uncertain fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. You’re using EveryAction tools to run an advocacy campaign around this very issue. What has been the response to your efforts?
In general, EveryAction has been very instrumental in our efforts to keep our audience informed, engaged, and active on this particular issue. We’re using EveryAction to develop timely action alerts that are relevant to current legislation and provide opportunities for our followers to connect directly with their members of congress via phone or email.
I think this is probably the first campaign we've had a big push around using EveryAction. We've sent out multiple action alerts which is pretty new for Girls Inc. We’ve sent around 3-4 action alerts around DACA and since we sent our first email we've probably doubled the number of responses we've been getting. Our list size has grown a lot so our audience is really engaging and advocacy for our action alerts is growing quite quickly. In short, the response has been great!
As Girls Inc. continues to serve as a major voice in empowering and inspiring girls and young women, what other EveryAction tools or features have made it easier for your organization to achieve these goals?
EveryAction has been really crucial for us. We have been able to make more data driven decisions, such as what content we're sharing and the audience we're sharing it with. Before EveryAction, we weren’t able to effectively segment our audience. The targeting and testing has been so helpful! We're just in the beginning stages of figuring out what those segments are and who we're interested in targeting but the fact that we even have data coming in that indicates who is engaged, who is excited about our content, and what kind of content they’re interested in has been very helpful. Additionally, the usability of the forms has been crucial. We just didn't have the technology before to track who was new to our list and who was signing up. These features combined with a new website have resulted in a 25% list growth in the last six months, which is huge for us!
Bringing all these pieces together has been really great and allowed us to build up an engaged audience that's excited about the work we're doing. This in addition to using EveryAction have been crucial to help us move forward, especially now as we’re really pushing our advocacy work.
Technology has continued to change the way many nonprofits operate. Looking ahead, how do you see technology - from social media, digital engagement tools, and beyond playing a pivotal role in your mission?
Technology is and will continue to be essential to the work we're doing. Girls Inc. is pretty new to using technology in more than just the conventional way. We're really ramping up our advocacy work and how we engage our audience. It’s more than using email but also taking account of our social media platforms and figuring out how we can use all of our digital platforms to mobilize our audience. I think in the beginning stages it's really about building up that audience and understanding who they are and what they want to do. It's definitely going to be an essential piece in how we move our work forward.
Additionally, at Girls Inc. our key stakeholders are girls. Young people are really social media savvy and online platforms are the way they get information and take action. As we continue to build this movement, EveryAction is critical to getting young people engaged.
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