Girls who lead become women who lead ~ GALS

Brynn Macdougall, Pennsylvania, USA

Your Big Year
Apr 4 · 6 min read
Brynn teaching GALS in Kenya

My Project: GALS

How are you making your mark? Through Women’s Campaign International’s GALS program, I’m working to empower at-risk teenage girls in Philadelphia with the skills and support to be confident leaders. The Girls Advocacy and Leadership Series (GALS) started in 2010, but it hasn’t been until the past year that we’ve really begun focusing on enhancing the program to reach it’s fullest potential. GALS is a nine-week after-school program that runs twice per year. Right now we’re working in one high school in Northeast Philadelphia, a neighborhood that is notorious for it’s crime, poverty, and lack of opportunities. At GALS we teach girls that they have the power to take charge of their own lives and achieve their goals, while helping others around them along the way. Our workshops cover a variety of topics: life skills such as basic budgeting, resume writing, and public speaking; discussions on positive body image, diversity, and global issues; and the creation of group advocacy campaigns to combat community issues. The advocacy campaigns are the signature component of our program. By the end of the nine weeks, the participants present on how to combat serious local issues, such as bullying, the deportation crisis, sexual harassment, emotional abuse, and more. It’s truly inspiring watching them realize that they have the power to make a difference in the world

What was your inspiration?

My inspiration for growing GALS is rooted in my belief that everyone has great leadership potential, even if they do not realize it. No matter who you are or where you’re from, I believe that creating positive, mentoring relationships is the key to personal success. Some people need a space to discuss what’s going on in their lives, some people need to learn practical life skills, and others just need the confidence that comes from being told they can achieve what they set their mind to. A space that provides all of these things is particularly critical for girls. Too many teenage girls are faced with low self-esteem and a fear of failure, so being able to help them overcome those hurdles to realize their leadership potential is what inspires me every day. Once a girl realizes that she has power to create change in her life and the lives of others, she is invincible. These girls are going to be the women who lead us tomorrow, and knowing that both inspires and excites me to help prepare them for their futures.

What are the biggest challenges you have faced?

The biggest challenge I’ve faced, and am still facing, is balancing my work between GALS and WCI’s signature international programs. Growing one program is a feat in itself, so growing GALS while also working to grow new international programs has definitely been a challenge. The way I’m working to tackle this is by bringing what I know to an international stage. Instead of focusing entirely on initiating international programs that reflect WCI’s past work, such as programs focused on entrepreneurship or political campaigning, I’m focusing on taking what I know, GALS, global. Last summer, I did a pilot program of GALS in Kenya, and next month I will be heading back to kick off a 3-month program. Focusing on what I’m an expert in and what girls need in our partner’s countries has helped me bridge the challenging gap between WCI’s signature international programs and the potential for our domestic GALS program. I’m hoping that our international GALS programs will grow into long-term, sustainable programs over the next couple of years.

What have been your best resources to help you succeed?

The resource that has been the most helpful to me has been the expertise of other people. In the past two years, I’ve gone from graduating college to managing an organization. There’s a lot I don’t know, and I think that what has contributed greatly to my success is my ability to admit that and work with other people to fill in the gaps. I’ve been lucky that I’ve met many women who believe in what I’m doing and offer their services pro-bono. Having other women help with things I’m less familiar with, such as branding or creating a new fundraising strategy, has allowed me to focus on my strengths while learning from the expertise of others. I also regularly go to workshops on any and every topic that I think could be beneficial to me — everything from organizational management to strategic planning, fundraising, or marketing. These have been really helpful.

What is the advice you would give to your peers?

The best advice I have to give to my peers is to focus on what you are capable of. We all sometimes feel overwhelmed by what we’re not doing, what we don’t know, or what we think we can’t do. Instead of dwelling on these things, focus on your strengths and what you are capable of achieving with the resources, experience, and knowledge available to you. Also, don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know. Surround yourself with people who know more than you and who are passionate about what you are passionate about. Doing these things is what helped me transform from feeling overwhelmed and unprepared to feeling optimistic and self-assure in the work that I’m doing.

What are your future plans/projects?

My plans for the next year focus mostly on growing GALS — both domestically and internationally. As I mentioned, I’ll be heading to Kenya next month to do our first full GALS program there. In Philadelphia this spring we’ll be testing out a new community engagement component to the program at GALS, connecting the girls with local organizations to take field trips to learn about local initiatives that they can get involved in. In the fall, we’re expanding GALS to a second high school in Philadelphia, and I hope to expand to more schools in 2020 to become a region-wide program. One of the projects I’m most excited about is our recently initiated GALS Ambassador Committee. GALS Ambassadors are influential, social women in Philadelphia with the networks and expertise to help us enhance the program. GALS Youth Ambassadors are girls who have gone through the program and want to get more involved in representing and improving the program. The GALS Ambassadors, Youth Ambassadors, had our first meeting in February to discuss curriculum revision, program evaluation, and how to get word out about what we’re doing at GALS. I think that the fact that so many local women and graduates of the program want to get more involved as active representatives of GALS speaks for itself — we’re doing something right, and we’re ready to bring it to as many girls as possible.

Twitter: @WomensCampaign


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