Adolescent girls are standing up and stepping out across California this month to make their voices heard, declaring "it's not fair" that girls who share their dreams for the future don't have equal access to opportunities in countries like Ethiopia, Malawi, Guatemala, and Liberia. This is not simply about protest, however, these girls insist that change is at hand. They should know. These Philanthro-Teens are the ones making it happen, girl by girl.
Girl Up, a campaign of the United Nations Foundation, brought their Unite for Girls Tour to San Francisco this week. Gathering at the global headquarters of >Levi Strauss & Co., teens from across the Bay Area joined peers like actress Alexandra Dadarrio, singer Olivia Somerlyn and the Girls Project Girl Performance Collective, in rallying the local crowd to help create a world where all girls have the chance to be safe, healthy, educated, and ready to lead.
Listening to the speakers -- among them the Girl Up Teen Advisors from across the United States -- I was reminded not only of how much remains to be done to help some of the world's hardest to reach girls with critical resources, but also how far we have come. Here we were in the offices of one of the most famous brands on the planet, talking about issues like child marriage on a Saturday, when the Levi employee volunteers, as well as the kids and families in the audience, could well have been out enjoying the City's countless distractions. And yet, here we all were - from various generations, backgrounds, economic brackets - together and united in the belief that together is the only way to Go Forth and make a lasting mark.
Each of us has something to contribute. Whether it's a girl that gives a High Five or starts a Girl Up Club, or a company like Levi that puts their own twist on things by engaging its workforce or getting creative with a donation model, the "High 501," it all adds up. The impact is two-fold. First, girls around the world, living in extreme poverty and challenged by often unimaginable circumstances, get a real chance to live happy, healthy, fulfilling lives. Second, girls in this country get to prove what they are capable of to the rest of us. Gifts that truly last a lifetime.
I've been lucky enough to meet many girls that fit both categories. It's because of them that I have faith in the days ahead. Plenty of statistics will back me up with data on what opening opportunities for young women does in terms of positive economic and social impact on communities. But my key indicator is always an individual one. It's the stories I've heard from unique, special, amazing girls in San Francisco, Africa, Latin America and beyond, which remind me that our greatest asset as a human race is love (brotherly or sisterly) and our biggest obstacle is despair.
For our own sakes, we cannot afford to let down the 500 million adolescent girls living in developing countries. We cannot afford to let down girls in our own neighborhoods. Each of us designs the life we want to occupy. Exemplify the individual you most want to be. Don't tarry. Don't waver. A girl is watching and learning. You will need her one day.