Girls Innovate! Year-End Dinner – Reflections by Uyen

There is an image of many people in a large conference hall, girls and their moms waiting patiently for an event to begin. Suddenly, all becomes quiet and the speaker steps on stage, serious but slightly anxious. How does one speak, and what does one say, to a roomful of parents and girls eager for advice that could transform their 21st century lives?

The speaker lifts her chin and strengthens her focus. She has given tons of speeches before, and to much more experienced and mature audiences, on much more complex topics. The journey of life – that she can talk about in her sleep. All the things that have helped her career shot to the moon – the good, the bad, the phenomenal and the truly ugly… they are real life stories and, from someone of such deep experience, come from the heart.

Not all she says makes sense to every girl, but the moms nod with understanding. They are pleased that a role model such as this renowned entrepreneur and innovator took the stage to speak to their girls in a way that they never can. That’s the irony of being a parent sometimes – one can’t always be a role model, no matter how deep one’s own personal experiences.

From that opening speech, the girls and moms move on to various other talks and workshops. They get to learn and mingle; participate in classes with real-life professionals and contemplate life as an entrepreneur, artist, engineer, writer, lawyer, and various other professions.

The event goes off smoothly and people leave feeling inspired. There is a sense of, “We need to do this again and for more women and girls.”

The event organizers – a community of girls and parents who came together from different walks of life and did not know each other before founding this cause – are tired but happy. Each is surprised at how her effort paid off for so many, including and especially for herself. She feels the event truly represents what she stands for at this juncture in her life and that she is acquiring skills that would help her maximize life’s potential.

Flashback to a time period of a few months or years back. A group of strangers attended or heard about an event like this one. They did not organize it, but they desired to be a part of it. They realized that if they don’t extend a hand, the event might never happen again. They asked, “What can we do?”

It is not difficult to organize an event. What matters is not expertise nor even resources but one’s mindset. The problem is that individuals are neither born nor raised to help organize events for complete strangers. They may believe in the structure and content of an event, but perhaps not so much in its potential to serve anyone and everyone.

In addition, people come with certain ideas of how an event should be – perfectly planned and with the most famous speakers. They don’t realize that if an event is to inspire, it must be meaningful to both the participants and the organizers. To be meaningful, elements of the experience must challenge the inner selves of everyone involved to become better than or greater than she is right now. There needs to be process as well as structure and content.

We all wish for inspiring events that teach us meaningful things and bring hope for the future. To have one of those, we need to become inspired ourselves. The resources are all around if we only look. It is in the presence of those searching for a similar experience; it is in the difficulties of figuring oneself out and stretching beyond the self to others; it is in stepping back and looking at the larger picture of why someone would organize an event like this for another person. Why wait to be inspired by a famous person, when you can be a source of inspiration yourself, when the budding lives around you can easily inspire you if only given the chance?

Today we are celebrating the work of this year’s Teen Committee. We also happen to be finishing the first chapter of Girls Innovate! (this was not planned; it just seems the right time). We have evolved from an idea around learning and community for women and girls to the actual realization of that community – albeit very small-scale (this is intentional to keep everything manageable). Fortunately, dads have become involved, as well. With the completion of Chapter 1, we are evaluating the possibilities for Chapter 2.

In Chapter 2, perhaps TC members can move closer to a realization of some of their ideals and potential (see Personal Best Leadership Experience statements further on), whether through Girls Innovate! or some other opportunity. When you listen to their speeches, you may hear some more ideas – or at the least, some hopes and desires for learning, community, impact – burgeon forth. Some girls are more ready now than others to take large-scale actions (embracing and voicing a vision of impact, mobilizing resources, communicating to varied audiences, supporting the learning and growth of others, raising public awareness); all will be ready one day if given proper support.

Since inception of the Teen Committee in December 2014, we have welcomed 23 girls. Of those, a handful has committed not only their 10-15 hours a month but at various times, much more. They have impressed me with their talents and their deep concern for the well-being of other members and of the public. No doubt you will see and hear from them again – if not as part of Girls Innovate!, then some other inspiring endeavor. I wish to acknowledge them: Arushi Agarwal, Anika Bagga, Emma O’Hara, Lydia Sun and Cathy Zhang. I was also impressed with the efforts of Celina Chow, Sanjana Shah and Langley Topper. I thank all TC members for joining and bearing with me through all the experimentation with TC structure, projects and events planning, collaboration tools, leadership training, and much, much more. I don’t know what the TC will be like next year. Whatever the new structure will be, you will be informed and have a chance to fill out an application, if interested.

I’d like to thank the many individuals who have lent a hand to support our work. In particular, this year we were blessed with David Epstein, who thought of and led all eight ThinkImagineProgram meetings; Christie Ma, who came up with and supported the Girls Innovate! Gavel Club from October through April; Ann Saponara, who guided the girls with many blog writings; Bin He, who hosted our Holiday Party and several TC team meetings, as well as helped out in numerous ways at events; and Ann Saponara, Kimberly Eng Lee, Christie Ma, Bin He, and Julie Yoo, who guided me and helped draft the Girls Innovate! Vision and Mission Statements. Soyeun Choi, Sarah Rogers and Liz Rogers were eager and generous in mentoring the Teen Committee members this year. Many thanks to all.

For the planning and execution of the Year-End Dinner, I give wholehearted thanks to Mukul Agarwal, who never hesitated to offer his help, mentor the Projects & Events team, draft brainstorming documents and synthesize this very program book.

I deeply appreciate the financial contributions of Kim Freitas and Michael Topper; Aimee Yan and Billy Chow; and Sophia Liu and Wei Li. Jenny Dong was greatly helpful in securing several grants from the Yahoo Employee Foundation.

Thank you all for the privilege of working with you: TC members, families, mentors and advisers. And thank you to our guests who represent the community that breathed and continue to breathe life into our efforts.

Girls Innovate! Year-End Dinner (May 16, 2015)

Girls Innovate! Year-End Dinner (May 16, 2015)

I hope that we are indeed just wrapping up Chapter 1 and that the brainstorming session at the Year-End Dinner will provide some much-needed insights on the writing of the next chapter.

Uyen Le Kry

More from the Dinner: