GirlzFTW's co-founder creates a global mentorship program for the next generation of gender equality advocates
United Nations Foundation
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This story was originally shared on #EqualEverywhere — a campaign to champion the changemakers working to make equality for girls and women a reality. You can find the original story here.

Priyanka Jaishinghani is a social entrepreneur, journalist, and advocate with a passion for making an impact. As the co-founder of a global mentorship program, GirlzFTW, she works to connect high school and college girls to inspiring mentors. Priyanka is also driving impact through her work as Managing Editor of Conscious Magazine and as a member of the World Economic Forum's Global Shapers community.



What does #EqualEverywhere mean to you?

#EqualEverywhere means closing the gender gap so women have access to equal opportunities.

Why do you advocate for equal rights for girls and women?

Almost 1 billion girls and young women lack the skills they need to succeed in a rapidly changing labor market. Women remain underrepresented in leadership and management positions both publicly and privately. According to Women, Business and the Law, globally, there are only six countries that give girls the same working rights as men. In addition, only 5% of women hold CEO positions across leading Fortune 500 companies.

These daunting statistics make me want to balance the playing field by investing in women across the globe.

What motivates you to do this work?

Growing up, I lived in the United Arab Emirates, Mexico, India, and the U.S., where I realized that girls and women needed more real life mentors. Indeed, irrespective of geography, girls face similar issues worldwide. My conviction that it is up to us to tackle adverse norms and promote positive role models motivated me to co-create GirlzFTW in 2017 (FTW stands for For The Win). It is gratifying that today, I'm building those very resources and platforms that I wish I had when I was younger.

GirlzFTW made it possible for 16 mentees hailing from India, Canada, and the U.S. to connect with inspiring and powerful mentors to help achieve their goals. Currently, girls participating in our network represent over 70 countries — from Ethiopia to Bangladesh.

What are the main challenges you experience in your work to advance gender equality?

As a global program, GirlzFTW encounters many types of gender inequality and provides a platform through which girls can share their stories. On the one hand, some countries have jumped miles ahead by introducing progressive laws and more tolerant societal norms. On the other hand, women in far too many countries must fight hard to even obtain a seat at the table.

A key lesson I have learned is that the first step toward narrowing the inequality gap is to instill confidence among women and girls by equipping them with the skills they need to speak up for themselves. Strengthening their voices requires concerted effort and deliberate networking.

What progress are you seeing as a result of your work?

Through global mentorship, GirlzFTW is channeling the magic of women every day. We do this by connecting girls in high school and college to inspirational and amazing women from diverse fields, industries, and backgrounds.

In 2019, we hosted the first 'The Girlz, RTW (Run the World) Conference', held as a collaboration between The World With MNR, Trinity College, and GirlzFTW. The event provided girls at the University of Toronto access to training, empowerment, career development advice, and mentorship. Over 100 girls came together to connect and network with like-minded female leaders.

What progress are you seeing in the wider gender equality movement?

Technology and a range of social media platforms are allowing us to amplify our voices beyond the usual advocacy communities that we naturally connect with. We've seen how a single tweet or video can spark a larger movement and create a multiplier effect.

While we have a lot of work ahead of us, women are rising and demanding a seat at the table — whether in politics, board rooms, or in the workplace. It is especially encouraging to see more diverse groups coming together in ways that allow decisions for women to be made by women.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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