The Breath of a Movement: Girls Discovering their Voices
Sejal Hathi was honored as an Ashoka ChangemakeHER, Changemakers's inaugural celebration of the world's most influentual and inspiring women. Find her fellow honorees' voices here.
Sejal Hathi, age 19, trains and mobilizes girls across the globe to co-create social change through her organization, Girls Helping Girls
Today, when I talk about Girls Helping Girls (GHG), I always say that part of our mission is to grow the next generation of female leaders: to build a dynamic sisterhood of changemakers that will revolutionize the way social change is achieved.
Yet, when I ponder the skills I used to launch GHG that I could offer to make this possible, I can name only bold idealism, glorious compassion, and a deep eagerness to drive a positive difference. Was I a leader? Perhaps.
Was I capable of cultivating new leaders? Most would say, “probably not.” But I very rapidly learned that inspiring girls’ leadership is less about bequeathing tools and more about nurturing a reciprocal exchange of ideas, strengths, and experiences.
Our impact would flow less from the materials we disseminated and more from the wisdom our community collaboratively innovated. And to create that community, we needed to empower girls to discover their own voices. In those voices, we recognize the breath of a movement: a personal transformation that blossoms into a global transformation in the way that society thinks about, treats, and remembers girls.
Thus, this became the mission of GHG: to equip girls to realize their inherent power as changemakers, and then support them in acting upon it, in partnership with one another.
Starting this process of social change from the inside was really important to me, because I knew from personal experiences that no girl can respect the world around her if she does not first respect herself. I remember leading a Skype-based workshop for a group of girls in Ghana GHG’s first year, and drawing a tree on a mini-whiteboard to try to explain that social change has three main stages—the first beginning with the self.
It was surprising for me to grasp this then, but for these girls, simply hearing that they had the power, not just to face their hardships, but to innovate practical solutions, was incredibly transformative. For the first time, someone was exhorting them—over a computer monitor no less—to stand up and not just deal, but actively do something to make their vision for the world a reality. And we were building the support network and creating the resources for them to successfully and safely translate their ideas into real programs.
By working organically in this way for girls, by girls, we were able to grow tremendously and mobilize thousands to spread our message. Such growth was not a progression we had planned for, or even expected, but something that just happened.
And this initial burgeoning propelled us into a constant state of innovation as new members gave birth to new ideas. I will be honest to say that our first efforts were rather disorganized: we really did not know what we were doing—how to register an organization, how to open a bank account, how to respond to unsolicited but entirely earnest emails requesting money for dubious programs. But we reached out to people who did know and who could advise, and it was in these moments that our mentors proved invaluable.
In conclusion, we received tremendous support, and we have grown into a beautiful global community that spans 20 countries, four continents, and thousands of girls. But still, we do not have all the answers.
And I know that no set of goals, no program, no mission or organization can include all that we must do. But with that knowledge comes the liberation to focus on this, my one mission: I believe that all girls are a movement—a united and unstoppable force that can solve the world’s most pressing problems, if only we give ourselves the opportunity. I strive to empower this movement, by opening girls’ eyes to their own potential.