Today we're very excited to kick-off our summer #RealGirlLeaders series. Each Wednesday we will highlight one of our ten IGNITE Change Finalist's Projects from 2015. The IGNITE Change Contest asks high school aged girls in Boston, Cambridge and Somerville the question, "If you had $1000, what would you change about the role of women and girls in your school, community or city?" We were amazed by their tangible plans for change targeting some of the world's most pressing concerns for women and girls.
Our first #RealGirlLeader is Emily Chan. Emily is 16 and a student at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in Cambridge, MA.
BE YOUR OWN BOSS
On my first day of economics class, I noticed something interesting. When asked to share why we decided to take the course, many of the girls in the room said “I thought it sounded sort of interesting” or “it seemed like it might be useful” while many of the boys said “I want to be a venture capitalist” or “I want to make a lot of money”. When talking to my friend who had the same economics class in a different period, I found out that she was just one of three girls in a class of about eighteen. Much later, while studying how Napoleon’s Civil Code oppressed women by giving husbands full control over property and financial decisions, I realized that even today, lack of control over money is still something that facilitates the oppression of women. It’s common sense that money equals power, and it’s also well known that women make 77 cents to a man’s dollar, and that women make up just 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs. No wonder powerful women are few and far between.
Diving deeper into big money, just 7% of venture capital funding goes to women, and in a study by the Harvard School of Business, despite having the exact same pitch, investors usually chose the man over the woman. According to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, men usually start companies with twice the capital of women. In the same line, just 4% of venture capital firms are led by women, and women tend to ask for less money than men as well. As a girl whose dream job is to start and run her own business, this is all pretty disheartening. However, startups led by women tend to succeed more often, and crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are leveling the playing field. Women lead 47% of funding campaigns on Indiegogo, and incredibly, women are 13% more likely than men to meet their funding goals on Kickstarter, and 61% on Indiegogo! That’s in stark contrast with the traditional forms of funding, where women make up a minuscule fraction of successfully funded start-ups.
It’s clear that in order to empower women, we need to help them gain control over money, and crowd-funding is much more friendly to women than tradition venture capitalism. If I had a thousand dollars, I would empower girls in the Cambridge community to pursue their interests and consider a career in business by teaching them how to start Kickstarter campaigns to fund projects of their own interest, and then guiding them through the process of actually running or carrying out their project. As someone interested in business, I have been to quite a few conferences and workshops where experts talk and give advice on speaking, presenting, brainstorming ideas, managing start-ups, etc. but it’s all talk and no action. What I want to do is help girls really fund their own ideas, and give them the ability and experience to make their dreams come true.
I would do this by holding workshops to teach girls how to use Kickstarter, and then pairing them with mentors who would teach them business basics, help them modify their projects to be realistic and feasible, and guide them through the actual process of carrying out their ideas. I envision two workshops for around ten to fifteen girls each, led by speakers drawn from the Cambridge community who have experience with crowdfunding (for example, the startup Electroninks, which raised $674,000 on Kickstarter for its conductive pen Circuit Scribe, is based in Cambridge). In the workshops, the speakers would talk about their own experience launching a startup and using Kickstarter, and then lead a demo on how to use Kickstarter, including tips and tricks for a successful campaign. Teachers or parents would work with girls to set up their Kickstarter accounts, since the program would be targeted towards high school students, likely under the age of eighteen. As for the mentors, Cambridge has a wealth of resources, and volunteers from the Havard Business School, the MIT Sloan School of Management, and other colleges in the area such as Boston University, Northeastern, etc. would give girls advice about things such as pricing, budgeting, setting goals, making spreadsheets, and keeping track of sales, and would work with them on their projects in meetings once a week after school. Working with their mentors would hopefully teach them about the technical side of business, and encourage them to consider business in college, and working on their projects would give them hands-on experience handling money and working out the logistics of running a business. Girls would choose a project based on their interests, which could range from making and selling jewelry at a local crafts fair or online, to filming a short movie or publishing a novel, to starting a business planting trees in backyards. Once they choose a project they’re passionate about, we would use cameras from the school’s media resource center to film pitches and promotional videos for the Kickstarter campaigns. If they are successfully funded, which would take around a month, they can begin carrying out their project, and if they are not, then they can revise and rework their idea and try again. The whole process would go on for around four months, with the first month devoted to fundraising, and next couple of months to refining business models and learning the ropes in order to keep their projects running smoothly. By the end, the hope is that girls will stay in touch with their mentors on their own but will have learned enough about starting a project, raising capital, managing money, and running a business to be independent. They will then have the skills to bring to life any dreams that they might have in the future.
With this project, I believe that I could help get Cambridge girls interested in business and entrepreneurship through a fun and interactive hands-on experience. Having the experience of starting and funding their own project would empower them to set higher aspirations, and their weekly meetings would allow them to build a relationship with a business mentor who would encourage and support them. In order for us to end gender inequality, it is essential that women increase their presence in business and gain equal control of money in the economy, and the first step in that direction is teaching girls to manage money, fund their own ideas, and make their dreams happen.