I never knew E.B. White -- he died 2 months, 19 days before I was born -- but as a girl, I grew up with his classic story of "Charlotte's Web." Later, as copy editor of my college newspaper, I scrupulously followed his rules of punctuation and grammar from "The Elements of Style." But it wasn't until recently that I discovered this quotation of his that sums up my 24-year-old life quite accurately: "I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult." If that isn't a statement to describe Millennial women today, then I don't know what is.
Every morning, I really do wake up determined to move the needle just a little further in supporting girls' education worldwide. In 2009 I founded She's the First, which promotes the importance of educating girls in the developing world. We send girls to school around the globe by encouraging young people to unlock the power of their social networks and creatively fundraise for sponsorships, giving underprivileged girls the means to break barriers. Most will be the first in their family to graduate.
In June, with the help of Cynthia Hellen, a woman who first contacted @shesthefirst on Twitter and then transformed into a true offline friend, we created the Girls Who Rock benefit concert in New York City to fundraise for the sponsorships of three girls in Tanzania. Helping to transform these girls' lives while rocking out to Shontelle, Kat DeLuna, Lenka, MoZella, Vita Chambers and Cara Salimando in concert? That was the epitome of a good time.
But do you know what else I do when I get up every morning? Like a Millennial poster child, I am among the one-third of young women ages 18 to 34 who checks Facebook when she first wakes up, even before she goes to the bathroom. With a swish of my thumb across the screen of my Droid phone, I open my inbox, I scan my Twitter feeds on Seesmic, and then I pop open my pink Dell laptop and log on to Facebook, seeing what's fresh in my friends' lives and monitoring She's the First's page. To me, social media is not an endless pit of oversharing. You can make it a well-curated feed of the news that is most important to you, and you can surround yourself with people who inspire and inform you.
Recently, I was taken aback when author Malcom Gladwell wrote in The New Yorker, "Why does it matter who is eating whose lunch on the Internet? Are people who log on to their Facebook page really the best hope for us all?" Well, why can't they be? There is such a misconception that Millennials use social media as a lazy form of activism and as a self-indulgent means of broadcasting their every move. Sure these types of people exist, but that's like comparing a tabloid magazine to The New York Times. Both mediums use the same language and ink on paper, but the focus, ethics, and effort they invest into the message they send are totally different.
Yes, there is not enough time in the day to schedule all the work we want to do and all the fun we wish we could have. But what I find incredibly empowering, exhilarating, and humbling about my generation is that we have independence and the freedom to make those choices.
When we become overwhelmed by the opportunities and unsure how to balance the flight of passion with the path of practicality, we can reach out to elders in our family and industry for advice, but social media has given us the unique opportunity and option to reach out to a peer who has a blog or an organization akin to one we want to start ourselves.
As an ambassador for Levi's recently launched Shape What's to Come global community for women, I'm finding ways to share my story, inspiring and empowering other Millennial women to discover their passions and unlock their potential.
I've received a handful of messages over the last three years from students who just want to know how I broke into the magazine industry, or how I started an organization like She's the First. Likewise, I've sent off an equal number of emails, if not more, to women who helped guide me through areas of business, technology, and design that are outside the scope of what I learned in a classroom. With Shape What's to Come, I get to help, connect, and engage with even more women like me, hoping to change the world one day.
Perhaps the most profound difference between how E.B. White started his day and how we begin ours is that when we wake up, we hop on our mobile device or computer and we are instantly connected. The power of social media allows us to inspire, to influence, and to grow, shaping the world that is ours -- all while hopefully having one hell of a time doing it.
You might be reading this having never heard of She's the First, but if now you are interested, you might start following us on Facebook. You'll learn that there are 600 million adolescent girls in the developing world, most of whom don't have the chance to receive a quality education. You might decide you're going to host a dinner party in your apartment, and you're going to ask your friends to donate $15 a plate to fund a sponsorship. On shesthefirst.org/directory, you might decide that you're going to contribute to the sponsorship of a girl at the Kopila Valley Children's Home in Nepal. This girl will go to school, and each year of education she receives now will increase her lifetime income and eventually her country's annual per capita income growth. It will decrease her odds of early marriage and childbirth and increase the likelihood of her raising healthy children. And to think -- this radical transformation of a girl's life all started with the simple click of a hyperlink.
Join the Discussion at www.shapewhatstocome.com.