Girls For A Change: Amy Jussel and Carrie Ellett On World-Changing

Some of you may remember I was one of the fortunate U.S. delegates last year for GWLN’s “Women Leaders for the World 2007” along with global citizen and Hardy Girls Healthy Women advisory board member Jin In, who is now the founder of 4GGL.org, who we’ll hear from soon. (4GGL stands for the “Glocal” impact of inspiring girls, transforming the world) EACH of the GWLN graduates deemed “women worthy of support” are worthy of a full feature profile, especially for this ‘All Things Girl’ week on Shaping Youth…

But since Jin and I (2007) are now joined by 2008 U.S. representatives Carrie Ellett of Girls For A Change, and Ann Endress (Free the Children) in this cyclebreaking incubator of change agents at GWLN.org, I thought I’d post this as a starter piece on some of the great work taking shape for GIRLS locally and globally (or “glocally” as Jin might say)…

Carrie Ellett is now National Program Director for this powerhouse entity back from their first-ever GFC National Tour (Sept/Oct 2008!) catalyzing an expansion via 100 new Girl Action Teams across the United States! GFC has ignited a flame for girls and fueled it like an Olympic torch that gets passed without ever extinguishing…carrying it forward with an online Girls Action Network to light the fuse among new teens coming aboard. Yep, they not only “did it,” they did it well! Here’s how:

Carrie epitomizes ‘what can be done’ with a dash of ‘bold’ and a pinch of ‘let’s try it’ much like the concept of the Millennials Changing America national tour.

Key differences? MCA (blog at Change.org) is a journalistic indie reporting venture, covering new ways to organize the passions of millennials, whereas GFC is a massive national undertaking to TRAIN change agents on the spot, specifically focused on girls aged 13-18!

Carrie Ellett and her crew used sponsorship in its most vital sense, to fund, empower, and incentivize participation in and around the National Tour…

Outcomes?

·    GFC Girl Action Teams are starting in more than 70% of the schools where they offered Change Your World Trainings…

·    They traveled more than 6,500 miles reaching girls in 11 cities, training 2,300 girls in 25 schools, using social media to follow up with hundreds of girls on the Girl Action Network hub.

·     Girl Action Kits were distributed detailing how each girl can create change in her neighborhood, city or school, using social change webs that girls created themselves about the community issues THEY are passionate about…teen pregnancy, education reform, homeless youth, sexism/racism/and a gazillion other ‘isms,’ the environment/water/poverty/access, media and marketing…

The list is amazing, and I had a hard time choosing which ones to highlight for my profile when I signed on to the Girls Action Network! It’s free, easy, fun, and empowering, give it a go girls! (and girl mentors)

Girls For A Change expansion? Eight to ten new Girl Action Teams will start in January 2009 in Richmond, Virginia alone! Carrie Ellett and her crew successfully empowered girls with the vision of what could be…now and in the next iteration of mobilization.

I’ll admit, as much as I’ve always championed the accomplishments of Girls For A Change, my first instinct as a media and marketing analyst was to look at the sponsorship ties on the national tour and raise my eyebrows with ‘Hmnnnn….’ skepticism.

My mind bubble burst with, “Hey, wait a sec…What has Sephora got to do with Girls For A Change? Makeup is hardly ‘change’ that’s just more of the same message to girls…couldn’t they go with Athleta or some cool Title IX benign empowerment entity?”

(I even posed that “tough love” question to Courtney Macavinta of Respect Rx, who has been an ongoing GFC volunteer and was their ‘brand ambassador/chairperson’ for the National Summit in San Jose this past year where I led a “girls action” workshop on “Stereotypes and Media”) To me, makeup seems like a superficial disconnect denoting ‘change’ of a different kind…compliance to beauty ideals that are external rather than internal. A slick way of brandwashing to sell product…

But wait! Not so fast…

Ever the smart girl champion and change agent, Courtney Macavinta had a solid, powerful retort (as usual) explaining not only the anticipated response of “the funding has to come from somewhere” but flagging the unique opportunity of “incentivizing” girls in a dual-pronged value-add for the “at risk/tough to reach” demographic to “engage” as well as girls already “centered in self” that just want goodies.

It’s not about makeup, it’s about transformation.

Hope. Beauty. Promise. Change.

Hmn…Ok. Got me there. Marketing hope. Giving girls the tools to make a difference. Not makeup. Action kits. Funding over freebies, but nonetheless entwined.

I’ve seen this in our own work at Shaping Youth…The more ‘in need’ (and in our schools, impoverished) the circumstance, the more freebies and corporate social responsibility matter…We actually used the ‘freebie’ tactic to instill healthier food selections than the branded processed junk…worked like a charm.

Point? If you can tap into a corporation willing to financially and responsibly support a massive media mindshift trying to do good things, it seems a win-win could prove change-making. All depends on the authenticity of the dedication, and how that double-edged sword is wielded with transparency and accountability.

Brand trust and loyalty can cut both ways, edging toward positive or negative values. (Think of all those sugary branded freebies that ‘hook’ kids early on, or the local fast food chain that provide livelihoods and paychecks in exchange for community support…Then again, think about the FREE Verb Yellowball campaign to get kids to get outside and play…or free fresh produce samples at Farmer’s Markets to get kids eating healthier)…We always need to look critically at the various ethical conundrums of FREEBIES and product endorsement and be at peace with our own moral compass on where we land with kids.

But the way I see it, if the GFC National Tour sponsors can fund ACTION that produces results while conveying positive messaging, then you have to weigh the pros and cons of direct contact. Again this is targeting savvy ‘teens 13-18′ not wee ones…

It’s kind of like the Dove Love concept I wrote about earlier…you either “love it or hate it,” since it’s unequivocally branding via emotional bond…

Marketers will never get a universal hall-pass from me where kids are concerned, but my rule of thumb is you have to weigh the messaging with each instance and each brand, it has to authentically fit, and the positive outcome of results has to be measurable enough to deploy the ‘opportunity’ as a win-win…

In essence, it distills into the Hippocratic oath I keep coming back to, “do no harm.” If you do harm you’re out. If you do good you’re in.

And if you do “more harm than good” as a snake in the grass, sneaking in the backside to mine kids’ as marketers, you’ll eventually get your ‘come-uppins’ once you’re outed by watchdog groups or writers like me who don’t take kindly to opportunistic brandwashing.

The ‘devil is in the details,’ each case is different.

Ultimately, The Sephora Project has the global scale and reach that GFC needs to make a massive splash, so it passes the sniff test with me in terms of the whys and hows of alignment and implementation.

The Girls For A Change National Tour (map at left) had amazing outreach, adding new ‘Girls Action Zones’ scales reach to potentially 210 U.S. and Canada Sephora stores, and more than 500 stores within 12 countries in Europe, plus an already established hub of 30 locations in China…Whoa. That’s a lot of social change agents if handled well.

In fact, all of the GFC corporations and sponsors aligning are “investing in change,” so the halo effect becomes palatable and the goals become sustainable.

It’s similar to the way that celebrity Danica McKellar’s “Kiss My Math and “Math Doesn’t Suck”books took a ton of heat for ‘pink think’ whereas Shaping Youth supported the notion that she was PURPOSELY using those outreach tactics to ‘sell smarts’ and engage middle-school girls that normally would NOT be drawn in to the conversation. (btw, sound off with how you feel on that one?)

Similarly, GFC Girl Action Teams were held in ‘Girls Action Zones’ (10 Sephora Stores in 10 cities throughout the country)…but they also encouraged hundreds of community members to take a stand for change, join the Girl Action Network, and recruit passionistas for things that matter to them.

For me? The Sephora sponsorship that started out as a controversial ‘huh?’ ended on an ‘aha!’ note as it paid it forward many times over hearing and seeing the actual actions of the girls involved, asking girls to start a GFC Action Team where THEY live…empowering girls to make a difference.

As their site says:

“Girls For A Change (GFC) is a national organization that empowers thousands of teen girls to create and lead social change. GFC provides girls with professional female role models, leadership training and the inspiration to work together in teams to solve persistent societal problems in their communities. Explore our web site to learn more about how you can join our movement and how girls are transforming our world–and reinventing girl culture–through GFC!”

Now here’s one of the core GFC leaders behind it all…Welcome, fellow WLW delegate:

Carrie Ellett to Shaping Youth’s “All Things Girl” week…

Shaping Youth: Who nominated you for WLW/how did you end up involved, and what was your ‘vision’ and ‘mission’ to use the leadership training for Girls for a Change?

Carrie Ellett: I was nominated for WLW by Eleanor Rouse, GFC’s National Program Director. She met WLW supporters at an event and recommended the program to me. When I heard about the program, my goal was to connect with women from around the world about the GFC mission and domestic and international expansion.

Shaping Youth: What did you find to be the most valuable aspect of the program? (e.g. coaching, structure, fundamentals, philosophy, or whatever) Tell us about your experience…

Amy’s note: I, for example, am inspired daily by the global women leaders I encountered during the GWLN 2007 training (at left) , to the point where I keep the photo on my nightstand to remind me of ‘what is possible,’ and to remind me that I have support on a global scale when we’re ready to deploy some of our larger programs once our funding is solidified…I even have a global pin map with their locations in my office to remind me of this outreach potential!)

Carrie Ellett: I’ve found the entire process of the fellowship with WLW to be useful. The coaching after the program has helped me stay on track with my vision through the successes and the breakdowns. The program gave me an opportunity to explore my vision and my role in GFC’s domestic and international expansion. In addition, the connection among women from throughout the world was a really powerful reminder of how important it is to work together for the greater good and also to learn about cultures.

Shaping Youth: Using the language of the WLW program, what is your ‘bold vision’ for GFC and your personal passion to ensure its success? (the ‘what and by when’ declared future)

Carrie Ellett: My bold vision for GFC is to have girl programming in 5 different countries by June 2009.

Shaping Youth: What is your favorite leadership quote?

Carrie Ellett: One of my favorite quotes is: “If you are a woman between the ages of 20 and 40 living anywhere on the globe, you are part of the most educated, professionally empowered, international generation of women ever. It’s an inspiring story in a world full of violence and insecurity — a generation of women poised to take the reins of global leadership like no other generation in history.”

~ Paula Goldman, in Imagining Ourselves: Global Voices From A New Generation of Women

Shaping Youth: How do you impart this leadership to the girls at GFC in your ongoing work to reach ‘breakthroughs’ and handle ‘breakdowns?’

Carrie Ellett: Our work is mostly done through the GFC Coaches. (video here) So we focus on empowering coaches to work directly with girls in communities. We have coach orientations and ongoing trainings throughout the year where we focus on creating social change with girls and sharing best practices for this work.

One of our core focuses is on recovering from failure. We encourage coaches to work with girls on skill building and allow girls to learn leadership skills while implementing their project.

During the project, if things were not working out it would be easy for coaches to take over and make sure the project happens. We ask coaches to not do this and instead work with girls on recovering from failure through making new plans, discussions about what happened in the failure and working to support each other.

Shaping Youth: Give an example of how one of your GFC experiences was enhanced by your ability to ‘two-step’ and come at a problem from a new direction? (Amy’s note: This training had a huge impact on me personally at GWLN, using Somatics and ‘two-steps’ to reverse and shift direction, literally learning how to go around problems and create solutions without crashing into barriers that halt leadership into full stop/breakdown mode. It continues to serve me well!)

Carrie Ellett: We recently completed our first National Tour — 2,300 girls trained to be social change agents in 6 metro areas in 26 days! — so I had many opportunities to 2-step! The planning of the National Tour was a big project with many working pieces. During this time, I remember many times the lessons of being centered and looking at challenges from a new perspective.

Shaping Youth: What are the opportunities and challenges in fulfilling your vision and how can the readers of this week’s ‘All things girl’ at Shaping Youth support you specifically?

Carrie Ellett: We are getting requests from around the world to bring GFC to girls and women everywhere. In order to fulfill these requests, we’ll need more financial support to continue our expansion. We also encourage social change makers to join us on our Girl Action Network!

Shaping Youth: Changeblogging Meme time! What is one change, big or small, local or global you want to see in your lifetime?

Carrie Ellett: I want every child on the globe to be able to attend school. I think education can help us solve many of our global issues.

Shaping Youth: How are you going to use your leadership skills to further this cause? (or your web/tech/marcom skills, etc.)

Carrie Ellett: I’m currently working with GFC whose focus is not education alone, but rather empowers girls around the world to decide what issues they want to tackle. I’m using my leadership to empower many others to create the change they want to see and many of the girls choose educational issues.

Shaping Youth: How has media and marketing impacted the girls at GFC in positive ways? In negative ways?

What do you see in your work in terms of ongoing reverb or sociological worldviews that has transcended GFC locally into the global sphere? (e.g. I was amazed that the girls in Africa and some of the remote villages were confronting some of the same ‘issues’ and struggles due to media homogenization and globalization of consumption patterns and ideals as girls in the U.S.!)

Carrie Ellett: Media and marketing has brought to girls messages of hope, especially in the 2008 presidential election. When they see women and girls who look like them, examples of women change agents and stories of the impact of change. These stories allow girls to visualize themselves as part of the solution…

Media and marketing can ALSO bring negative images usually related to girls’ interactions with each other. This spring the focus on girl violence took away many positive messages about girls that were in the media and focused them on competition among girls and girl bullying.

Shaping Youth: What was the most poignant moment of the GFC national tour for you personally? For the girls?

Carrie Ellett: The most poignant memory of GFC’s National Tour was a moment in Richmond, VA. We’d  trained 1,000 girls in four days and it was quite a whirlwind. We were at our last school working with a group of 80 girls at the end of the school day…

One of the girls asked me, “Are you sure we can really make a difference?” When I told her I was sure, she asked me “how do you know?” I had the chance to tell her about my experiences with GFC, personal experiences and my beliefs about girls as a force for social change.

It was a great conversation and her response to me was, “Okay, I get it. I like Girls For A Change.”

Shaping Youth: Has President Elect Obama influenced the girls you work with or inspired change within them that you can see?

Carrie Ellett: Particularly during the National Tour we saw many girls that were wearing Obama shirts, pins, hair bands, you name it. The girls talked a lot about how much they like Barack Obama and asked many adults who they were voting for in the election. Girls were also very aware of the issues being talked about in the campaign from economics to foreign policy. They were VERY engaged in the election.

Shaping Youth: What inspired you specifically to focus on girls as an under-served audience? (e.g. counter-acting toxic media msging? Hyper-sexualization?  Alternative choices for femme forward thinking or what?) What was your PERSONAL passion in taking on this line of work?

Carrie Ellett: As a young woman, I always felt like I wasn’t quite living up to my potential. I don’t think I gave it those words when I was a young woman, but I always felt like I was holding back.

I would often stay quiet when I knew answers, I would hold back on sharing solutions to problems, avoided joining certain groups that interested me, etc. It took until after college for me to really feel confident.

After being in AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps for 2 years, I started to realize how I could influence the world. At that time I was in my mid-20s and finally understanding I could create change and be a leader.

Now, as the National Program Director for GFC, I am spreading the word to girls that THEY can be change makers and then offering them support. I see the opportunity for more girl leaders at younger ages to be major influencers in their communities. I am confident this will change the world.

Shaping Youth: What do you think, readers? What’s your ‘change the world’ passion? Can brands support it or thwart it? Will the ‘world-changing’ concept fall to fatigue factor on the verbal over-exposure scale? If so, what phrase do you like better? And…um…does it pass muster for our Shaping Youth ‘TeeParty?’ ;-)

Sound off, weigh in, check out Girls For A Change and their brand new Girls Action Network, which we’ll no doubt be visiting quite often for how-tos and inspiration!

Meanwhile, we have so much great content for All Things Girl week that I can’t possibly wrap this up this fast…So I’m thinking of extending “All Things Girl” for one more week…

What d’ya say? Yay or nay? We have a host of positive picks that I haven’t even formatted yet! Sooooooooo much more to come…

Girls For A Change Mentors: Jennifer and Courtney Introduce the new Girls Action Network


Welcome to the GFC Action Network! from Girls For A Change on Vimeo.

Comments

  1. Personally, I prefer the way that Girl Scouts empowers girls to be leaders, by giving them the opportunity to Discover, Connect, Take Action over time, with age-appropriate activities.

    That said, I’m glad that there are multiple organizations with a similar mandate as you never know what will inspire any one girl, or who will reach her.

  2. Well, now there’s a classic example of a brand that’s been overhauled many a time with Uniquely Me and all the other offshoots yet for some reason in our region, many of the girls ‘outgrow’ it based on peer to peer ‘viral WOMM’ when it’s quite obvious the activities have changed and shifted to an entirely new GSA…Still, I don’t know about other moms, but it seems like the segue to middle school lost a ton of the GSA folks when girls started identity quests via sports teams, exploration elsewhere, etc.—

    I almost would like to ‘rebrand’ it here under a diff. name (with some hip/urban/tribal sounding invite only kind of hot ticket to ‘sell girls’ on coolness cache) and then do the old lift and reveal several months later as the group actually being one and the same as GSA! Wouldn’t that be a hoot?

    (yah, I know, “deception, deception”—shades of the Glass Menagerie, eh?) But that’s how counter-marketing works…Perception IS reality…at least at this age and stage it seems. ;-)

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