Girls Driving for a Difference

KATIE KIRSCH CO-FOUNDER is a Product Design Engineering senior at Stanford, whose passion for empowering girls comes from attending a prestigious all-women’s school for seven straight years. She is an accomplished filmmaker and writer, a seasoned design leadership coach and, a diehard coffee-enthusiast, and a creative designer of products, graphics, and experiences.

JENNA LEONARDO CO-FOUNDER spent her time at Stanford University exploring her passions for problem-solving and creativity. She graduated with a B.S. degree in an interdisciplinary field of Science, Technology, and Society, and she most recently served as President of Stanford’s impact design studio, Design for America.

RACHEL H. CHUNG DIRECTOR OF MARKETING is a designer and marketer with a passion for education, empowerment, and design thinking, and recently graduated from Stanford with a B.S. in Science, Technology, and Society with honors. Rachel is currently the founder and creative director of Blink, a Stanford team developing children’s eyewear, as well as an active researcher studying the intersection of design, learning, and exploration in children.

NATALYA THAKUR DIRECTOR OF SOCIAL IMPACT brings a passion for social entrepreneurship and design thinking from coaching workshops for alumni at Stanford Sierra Camp. Natalya recently graduated from Stanford University with a degree in International Relations and an honors thesis written on the ethics of social work and women empowerment/leadership in international non-profit initiatives. At Stanford, Natalya also served as Class President for two years and worked as an English teacher and camp counselor for youth girls in domestic and international settings.

The following responses were given by Katie Kirsch.

What is Girls Driving for a Difference?

Girls Driving for a Difference (GDD) is a mobile design studio and team of Stanford women coaching design and leadership workshops to empower girls across America to become leaders of social change.

After founding the organization last October, our team devoted a year to design research around the Bay Area, specifically seeking to understand the needs and challenges faced by middle school girls in their confidence and leadership abilities. As we hosted our workshops throughout the Bay Area, we also took our curricula and exercises through countless rounds of prototyping, testing, and re-iteration, all in preparation for the months to come…

Now, our team is in Week 6 of an exciting, summer-long road-trip across the United States in an RV, to share our workshop experience with 1500 middle school girls around the nation. Each workshop enables middle school girls to identify their strengths, discover their leadership style and abilities, and craft their very own mission statement for creating social change in their community. It’s so inspiring to work with the girls!

Why did you start it?

Studies show that between childhood and womanhood, girls encounter a phenomenon called “losing voice,” where their confidence levels tend to drop as their attention to social dynamics increases. We believe that this makes middle school a critical time period in girls’ development, encompassing some of their most transformative years for self-image and belief in their abilities to succeed and lead change. This also makes middle school the perfect opportunity to show girls what being “cool” really means — having the courage to express yourself and find your voice as a leader!

In designing our workshops and curricula, we took the design thinking methodology that we learned in the Stanford and flipped it around.

So instead of presenting design thinking as a tool for creative problem-solving, we’re using it to catalyze moments of self-discovery for girls.

Instead of asking them, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, we’re asking them, “What kind of change do you want to create in the world, and how can you begin to achieve that dream today?”

What has been the biggest challenge in organizing this initiative?

GDD has grown so much as an organization over the last year. For us, every workshop is like a live prototype — we’re constantly trying new things and then gathering more feedback, so we can figure out what’s working and what’s not. One of our biggest challenges with the workshops, however, has been measuring our impact and making it sustainable. For example, even though our standard workshop runs for two hours for a group of about thirty students, we’re aiming to spark a conversation, a change, and a dream that will last for years to come.

So far, we’ve approached this challenge by sustaining mentorship, conversations, and workshop-related projects through our “Journal with GDD” program. Each girl receives fun prompts and creative challenges from our team twice a week, describes her experience in her very own GDD journal (which she received from us as a gift at the end of the workshop), and then checks in with us through an online service. It’s a great way for us to see the kind of impact we’re creating and keep in touch with the girls about the amazing work they accomplished both in the workshop and beyond!

What has been most rewarding?

At the end of each workshop, we have a tradition where each girl shares her dream for social change with the rest of the group as loudly as she can. There’s high-fiving, cheering, hugging, and even the occasional tear shed by the GDD team — we leave every workshop hoping that the girls feel just as inspired and moved by their words as we do!

Wanna learn more? Check out Girls Driving for Difference at:

FastCompany Leadership:





Instagram: @girlsdrivingforadifference

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