Empowering Experiences at the Girl Up Leadership Summit 2015

Last week my oldest daughter had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Girl Up Leadership Summit  2015 in Washington, DC.  Girl Up is a campaign organization from the United Nations Foundation that advocates for adolescent girls around the world.   The Summit included over 225 young female leaders from middle school to college (representing various countries) meeting together to participate in leadership training and workshops, to discuss global concerns for women and girls, and to lobby for these issues on Capitol Hill!  The theme for this year’s Summit was “Stand Up. Speak Up. Rise Up.” and was a motivating and inspiring experience.



My daughter had been looking for something to inspire her as she is about to start high school in the fall.  We had talked at length about some of the opportunities she may be interested in pursuing in high school and it was evident she wanted something more than what she already knew of.  Last year I had been following the 2030 Global Goals for Sustainability from the United Nations Foundation, and came across the Girl Up organization.  I showed it to my daughter and she was elated to see it was right in line with what she wanted to devote her energies to!

The format for the Summit is very impressive.  I had read about last year’s Summit and saw the attendees had an incredible lineup of extraordinary speakers.  This year was definitely stellar as speakers included executives from the United Nations Foundation, AOL, Inc., UNICEF, Caterpillar, Inc., NBCUniversal, Yellowberry, and more.  Attendees also had the chance to hear first hand experiences, challenges, and hopes from rights activists from around the world.  Even more fortunate, the First Lady herself, Michelle Obama, was present to speak on her global education campaign Let Girls Learn.

Upon arriving in Washington, DC, I told my daughter that this was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to think about her potential role in making the world a better place for all.  She was going to have the rare opportunity to spend 3 days among a cohort of fellow female leaders in getting advice and inspiration from speakers who are exceling in their own pursuits for social good.


I had the opportunity to step in and listen to some of the sessions, with topics from how to “be you” and empowering yourself and others, to gender-based violence and human trafficking.  I was able to listen to Dr. Anju Malhotra, Principal Adviser for Gender and Development for UNICEF (which is the arm of the United Nations that works for rights of children around the world).  Her job is to ensure that the billions of dollars being alotted for sustainable goals take into account the rights of girls.  One of key points that Dr. Malhotra made that resonated with me was her focus on how generations need to move faster in promoting equality for females.

It is important for the world to have ambition for girls and not just girls to have ambition for themselves.-Dr. Anju Malhotra

We cannot wait 15, 30, 60 years and so forth to experience progress and change.  Otherwise, generations of talented women and their contributions to society will be lost.


On day 2 of the conference, First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama came to speak about Let Girls Learn, a campaign to provide more opportunities for girls around the world to an education.  Educating girls will not only empower them to contribute to the world and their families, but also build stronger and thriving communities around the world.  As an opener to the First Lady, they showed a TEDx Women talk from Shabana Basij-Rasikh, President and Co-founder of the School of Leadership of Afghanistan.  She spoke about the need for the world to understand the value of an educated daughter.  Her discussion of her upbringing in Kabul and her challenges for education showed how much a mindset is important in creating change for the future.

What spoke to my heart during Michelle Obama’s address was that she opened with the point that each and every one of the attendees was present at the Summit because they had someone, at least one person, in their lives that believed in them.  That they were there because people believe they can do something good from this.  It is disheartening to know that there are girls in this world who not only lack the support from others to pursue their passions, but they are living in societies where barriers are specifically set in place against them.  You can view her speech and other videos from this year’s Summit here.

Every night when my daughter returned from the Summit, I asked her about what she learned or what spoke to her heart.  The theme of appreciating and making the most of her education seemed to be at the forefront of the greatest takeaways from the Summit.  To shed even more light on her thoughts, I asked her to answer a few questions for this blog post.  Here are her reflections:

What was your biggest takeaway from the Summit?

My biggest takeaway from the summit was the importance of education. A girl’s education can get her a job and stabilize her future. In developing countries, girls cannot get an education for various reasons and that will cause her family to fall into extreme poverty. Education is something that many of us take for granted but we should really be appreciative of.

What speaker had the biggest impact on you and why?

Kula V. Fofana, a Liberian Adolescent Rights Activist, had the biggest impact on me. She spoke about her personal experience with gender inequality and how she ignored all of the unwritten rules in her community. It was very inspiring to hear that she persisted in her actions regardless of what other people might have said.

What did you learn from others at the summit?

Many girls at the summit had their own encounters with gender inequality and have seen the obstacles that young girls face in developing countries. I have never come across gender inequality or these problems in developing countries so hearing from other people’s experiences was very eye opening.

What did you learn most about yourself from the summit?

I learned that the only person getting in my way from making a change is myself. No one is stopping me from achieving my goals.

What words of advice would you give to someone who hasn’t attended a Girl Up summit?

Appreciate all of the opportunities that you are given like education and equality and use them to help create change for others that don’t have the same privileges as you do.

How do you hope to continue your motivation after the summit?

I hope to start my own Girl Up club at school so that I can get others involved in advocating for girls in developing countries.


I hope this Summit was just the beginning of her journey in contributing her talents to the world.  I imagine it is a catalyst for a call to action for her and many others.  To follow the dialogue and take action, check out Girl Up, United Nations Foundation, and follow #GirlsLead15, #2030Now, and #LetGirlsLearn.


Disclosure:  I am not affiliated with Girl Up or the United Nations Foundation.  The thoughts and opinions here are my own.  I would like to thank Melissa Hillebrenner, Director of Girl Up and Jonelle Kelly, Communications Officer of Girl Up for allowing me press credentials to sit in on some of Summit sessions.

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  1. Sounds like a great summit, and your daughter sounds wonderfully empowered to affect some changes in the near future!