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Big Ideas Emerging from the Aspen Women and Girls SOAR Fellowship

Last week marked the culmination of my Aspen Women and Girls SOAR Fellowship—an incredible journey of learning alongside 17 remarkable women leaders from across the globe. These women are fearlessly advancing economic justice, women’s health, education equity, and gender equality with bold and innovative solutions.

I'm overflowing with gratitude for these courageous leaders and the Aspen Institute team who recognized the potential of this program to propel our work forward. Through the SOAR Fellowship, we each had a unique space to develop our Big Idea - a new strategic move aimed at addressing pressing challenges to girls' and women's rights. Our journey took us to diverse locations, from Kigali, Rwanda, to Aspen, Colorado, to Washington, DC, where we united to forge strategic blueprints, challenge our preconceptions, and cultivate leadership skills.

One hallmark of the program is text-based discussions inspired by readings from authors such as Audre Lorde, Ursula LeGuin, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. These readings sparked discussions on topics including compromise, forgiveness, and purpose, encouraging deep reflection and the articulation of our realizations and commitments. One personal revelation was how I at times slip into a scarcity mindset – scarcity of resources, time, and people for the ambitious work at Girl Rising. The time with these extraordinary women prompted a shift towards an abundance mindset, recognizing the wealth of talent, ingenuity, and goodwill within my team and global community - all which will help with the advancement of my Big Idea.

During our third in-person Fellowship convening we visited the genocide memorial in Kigali. It was a profoundly moving experience which ignited conversations about courage. We talked about how every endeavor for social justice demands courage - how effective leadership hinges on courage. To bring our Big Ideas to fruition - to create new programs and movements - we need courage, often drawn from a supportive network. The SOAR Fellowship provided precisely this kind of network. We are a connected community of women, intent on supporting, challenging, and empowering each other.

So what does all this mean for the bold steps I will take for the Big Idea I proposed for this Fellowship - that Big Idea being the Future Rising Fellowship, a program to support young leaders working in their communities at the intersection of climate, gender and girls’ empowerment? As we move into our third year of the Future Rising Fellowship, we have much to build on. We’ve built a network of 32 Fellows from 25 countries; supported them financially, with professional development, focused storytelling and media training, and helped them produce documentaries, podcasts, graphic novels, photo essays, and research about their work. We are bringing them to some of the world’s most influential stages including the United Nations General Assembly and sharing their stories with the world.

This work is urgent. Climate change is wreaking havoc on health, safety, lives, livelihoods and is impacting girls and their ability to go to and remain in school. Yet girls all over the world are an untapped, underutilized, underinvested in powerful force for change. For all of these reasons, Future Rising has become a key strategic direction for Girl Rising, alongside our work to expand and deepen our education program which now reaches 10 million adolescents across 8 countries. As we now begin to execute our Big Idea strategy for the growth and impact of Future Rising, our priorities are to:

Build New Networks:

These young leaders, the 32 Future Rising Fellows, are already at the forefront of climate justice and gender equity, driving local initiatives in their communities while also influencing global leaders. Most of them are women of color or Indigenous women, and have faced and triumphed over a myriad of challenges and biases. One of the most pivotal steps we can take to support them is to connect them to others and help them grow their networks. Networks are often taken for granted among privileged individuals, and they have historically played a vital role in enabling many individuals to take a next step and advance their ambitions. For these emerging leaders, it is our responsibility to help them create new, expansive global networks that will serve as rocket fuel in their efforts to drive change.

Create the Space for Them to Lead:

Supporting the Future Rising Fellows as leaders means willingly relinquishing our positions of authority, offering them the platform and microphone they need to amplify their voices and share their visions with their communities and the world. Additionally, providing essential financial resources to support their work and offering guidance whenever they seek it is imperative.

Mobilize a Movement for Girls' Education as a Climate Solution:

We are in the midst of a global crisis. We need to strongly and unequivocally shout the rallying cry that girls’ education is a powerful lever to address the climate crisis. At Girl Rising, we feel a deep need and responsibility to mobilize a global movement for girls’ education as a climate solution. Advancing the right to a quality education for girls is not merely an option; it is a necessity for our future.

As we move forward on our Big Idea for Future Rising, and our expanded education program, storytelling will be woven into all we do as our guiding force, our way of building empathy and understanding and igniting broad social change. Our vision is big and bold, because it has to be.

As we move forward with the Big Idea that emerged from the SOAR Fellowship, we are not just shaping the future; we are forging it with courage, connection, and a commitment to girls' rights. Together, let's continue to ignite a movement that creates a world where all girls can learn, rise and thrive.

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