Name: Bainbridge Island Girl Up
Location: Bainbridge Island, WA
Year Founded: 2018
Tell me about your launch story; how did your organization get started?
I’ve been a youth leader and mentor for many years, and wanted an opportunity to lead and inspire while advocating on leadership, education, health, and gender equality issues. But I had also had some challenges in my friendships with girls when I was younger. Being ostracized or excluded and some emotional bullying. I felt some of that was people acting out from a wounded place and feeling they needed to compete. It’s not that I wasn’t competitive – I was in sports and a lot of other things. I just didn’t feel as if I had to cause harm to someone else to get where I wanted to go. I thought if more girls had the opportunity to be leaders on issues important to us, they would relate to one another in a more positive way, with self-confidence, and no interest in harming one another to gain what is often a superficial level of competitive advantage.
While trying to decide if I should start something or join an existing initiative, my first consideration was efficiency. I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel just to be able to say on my resume that I formed a nonprofit. The second was I wanted to have a peer-to-peer component since it creates a pipeline and opportunity for learning, mentoring, and leadership. I also didn’t want to limit the theme to one focus, such as science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). I’m definitely a lifetime STEM girl, but I wanted the organization to provide skills members could develop, refine, and utilize across disciplines.
During my research, I came across the Girl Up initiative, which was founded by the United Nations Foundation in 2010. Girl Up works with a global community of partners to achieve gender equality worldwide, and the clubs, which are formed by girls in their own communities, are champions for change that have had a huge impact on girls around the world. Through education, fundraising, advocacy, and service, Girl Up Club members develop the leadership skills necessary to make a positive difference in the lives of girls everywhere, empowering both people in their own communities and adolescent girls in developing countries to rise up. I was sold and started my club in December 2018.
What challenges did you face, if any, while launching?
Getting up and running through the main Girl Up portal was actually quite seamless. The challenge I faced, and still do, is attracting girls who are interested and want to work on these issues at a sustained level. Bainbridge Island is a wealthy and progressive community, and there are protests, candlelight vigils, and various campaigns. Girl Up isn’t just one thing you work on and then you’re done until the next crisis, although the specific challenges do have start and end dates. My point is that being in the club is a series of engagements and it takes an ongoing investment of time and energy. Girls in middle or high school might already be scheduled with school activities or homework, because this is also a high-achieving community, and getting members to not only join but continue showing up is a challenge.
Tell me about its mission/goals and the primary populations you serve?
The mission of Bainbridge Island is to empower middle school and high school girls and pave the way to their success. My vision was to create a vibrant and proactive community of girls, in partnership with women, as we change the world. Most clubs are directly affiliated with high schools or colleges and the advisor is usually a teacher or school counselor. I chose to form an independent club so middle school girls could participate earlier in the process, which helps us create a pipeline of leaders so they’re ready once they enter high school. It also gives older girls the chance to mentor younger ones. Together we learn to hone our public speaking,
fundraising, and event-planning skills for future impact. As a result, I formed the club as a citywide entity, open to girls of any age who felt ready to participate independently (versus having their parents drive their activities or interest). Locally, our primary population could be the island, or underserved communities beyond it on the nearby peninsula in our county. But when we got involved in initiatives with HQ we were serving populations all over the world, such as Ethiopia, Guatemala, India, Liberia, Uganda, and Malawi – or anywhere we see a need.
What does your organization do best?
In the summer it was fundraising. We had several of them and also received a grant from our Rotary. But looking at the organization as a whole, I’d say what we do best is outreach via social media and partnering with like-minded entities or initiatives – particularly when it comes to STEM for Social Good.
What are you working to improve?
We are still working to attract officers and members who will join and commit to the work. When the weather is beautiful or school is out, many people here are outside or traveling, but we try to help them understand there is much we can do virtually to advance our mission and continue to help others less fortunate or in need of our advocacy.
What does collaboration over competition mean to you?
There is a saying I hear often at home: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” When you’re involved to advance causes truly important to you, you’ll collaborate with those who share that mindset because it’s about the goal and the work. If you’re in it for the glory, to check a box, or you think the pie is small and it’s a zero-sum game, competition becomes the modus operandi and the mission can suffer. Be prepared to check your ego at the door when committing to meaningful strides.
Final words of wisdom to all the young women out there who are strategizing to reach their education and career goals?
1) Begin anywhere. Don’t be intimidated by your lack of knowledge or experience, or that others may have more. Sometimes when I look around me there are a lot of award-winning girls and women with these impressive careers, and I think we sometimes feel we have to do all of that just to measure up or be accepted in our respective fields, especially STEM. But every guy in STEM doesn’t have to be a super geek with all kinds of awards and articles so why should girls? It’s nice to have those things and great to aspire to these achievements, but I want young girls or women to also know they can just jump in at the beginning, explore, and enjoy wherever they are at.
2) Try out different fields, explore your interests. STEM and other fields have many components, and if your interest is piqued by any of them, try them out! Even if you might not like one field there are many others to try. Don’t be afraid to use your networks and resources, ask questions, go with your instincts, and what makes you passionate. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.
How can our readers reach you to get involved or learn more?
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BainbridgeIslandGirlUp
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bainbridgeislandgirlup
- Our Website: https://www.bainbridgeislandgirlup.com/
- Main Girl Up site: https://girlup.org/