Happy International Day of the Girl! Since 2012, United Nations General Assembly has recognized October 11 as a day to focus on girls’ rights and the various challenges that they face all around the world. Aerie is celebrating this year’s theme, “My Voice, Our Equal Future,” by speaking to three of the inspiring individuals from our fam to share more about their personal stories and shed insight on their activism.
We caught up with #AerieREAL Role Model Dre of Smile On Me, and Changemakers Maya Caine of MIVE and Rubini of Selfless to learn more about their unique perspectives. Read on below to see how Dre, Maya and Rubini are boldly making space for girls.
Dre Thomas, Founder, Smile On Me
How does Smile On Me provide a safe space for young girls in low-income communities?
I think the most important thing to remember when working with girls in unique communities, is to embrace the whole community and its culture. A lot of the girls we get to impact often represent the good of their community or borough. And so, we found that the best way to create a safe and welcoming space for girls is to meet them where they are. We have to remember that these girls are already great, they already have the tools they need to make a difference. What we do is awaken that greatness, we get to make room for girls to discover the remarkable and thrive.
What are some educational tools you provide about safety and the importance of building a community?
Each one of our programs is created out of the ordinary. We like to take the familiar (what’s going on in girl-world) and make it exceptional. This past spring we launched Tiny Talks; a digital conversation series where we tackle big topics in a tiny and intimate setting. Through this series, we were able to connect with girls during quarantine and provide a space for them to be their authentic selves and discover something new. There is so much value in building a community where individuals feel comfortable or at home, it makes it easy to discuss taboo topics, embrace transparency, and honor the opinions of our peers — even if we disagree.
How can others get involved with providing safe spaces for young girls and eradicating gender-based violence?
The thing I love about community building is that literally, anyone can do it! Whether it’s gathering the young people in your apartment complex or coming together with those on your block, community is where the people are. I believe others feel safe when there’s a sense of familiarity and trust within the group, and familiarity comes from consistency — consistency from perseverance and perseverance from passion.
Maya Caine, CEO, MIVE
What inspired you to choose a career path in STEM and create MIVE?
I was inspired to choose a career in STEM during my freshman year of college. I did not know exactly what I wanted to do when I graduated, so I majored in Information Systems because I knew technology touched every industry. I found that technology was fueling all the innovation around me. From machine learning, augmented reality, and the internet of things, I knew this was going to play a large part in how we live and connect with others.
I was inspired to start MIVE through a problem my peers and I were facing in college. The mall in our small college town had very little options, so many of us would resort to the internet to purchase clothes for upcoming events. We found this process to be very frustrating as we were spending so much time trying to find the right items, [only] for them to not fit once they were delivered. Having to make the trek off campus to return was a pain, and I knew enough was enough. This problem inspired me and my twin sister to explore what a frictionless online clothing shopping experience could be, which led to our start-up MIVE.
How do you find and maintain your voice in a male–dominated career field?
It always starts with trusting yourself and having confidence in your work. For so long I focused on being polite and agreeable that I was inherently censoring myself. I had to kill that mindset and prioritize saying what I mean and meaning what I say. Having amazing women mentors helped empower me to find my voice and make something that felt so uncomfortable my new normal.
What skills and educational tools were critical for you, as a young woman, in choosing your future?
Conversing with women at various stages of their career helped me explore career possibilities. These were informational interviews and casual conversations which included questions about their goals, work, impact and fulfillment. There was so much to learn from other women’s lived experiences, which helped me understand what I did and did not want for my future.
Rubini, Founder, Sefless
When did you first begin your career in activism and how did it inspire you to create Selfless?
When I was in middle school, my mother had taken my sister and I on a service trip for a nonprofit in rural India called the Chinmaya Organization for Rural Development (CORD). My mother’s motivation was for her American-born Indian daughters to better understand their roots as well as be aware of the realities of the world. Upon return to the U.S., I was asked by CORD to raise funds for a young boy I had met while in India who was needing money for his cancer treatment.
Within a weekend, my friends and I organized triple the amount of what was requested. This was my first time experiencing the change that an individual can make. My inspiration later became the seed for organizing the first high school led Relay for Life event of the American Cancer Society — a 24-hour fundraising event typically organized by adults. As a group of inspired high schoolers, we raised nearly $50,000, and I was enamored by the impact that I could help create.
Simultaneously, I was discovering my own skills and interests in social psychology, documentary photography, and the power of visual storytelling to mobilize communities. It became my priority to think pointedly about how I could use my unique skills, talents and qualities toward social change. After years of personal discovery, reflection and ideation, I recently launched Selfless — a social good tech startup that matches people with opportunities to do good and fosters lasting impact through storytelling updates from the community.
What are some of the barriers you’ve faced when starting Selfless?
Because of the uncertainty that comes with forging one’s own path, there is undoubtedly fear and doubt that I experience [from] time to time. This is the biggest roadblock in my approach of doing authentic activism because it can muffle that inner voice that otherwise guides my dream. Time and time again, I have found that the way to overcome this doubt is to have faith in something higher. I truly do believe there is a higher force that is steering me towards launching Selfless. An anecdotal example of this is how during a fellowship I was completing in Uganda, upon hearing my vision for Selfless, a local nonprofit worker told me that my dream was to “help other people’s dreams become possible, therefore it will be a success.”
How do you encourage other young women to get involved in social activism?
One of the most impactful ways for me to motivate other girls towards social impact and activism is by sharing my own story openly. It’s only by learning about other women activists’ journeys that I have come to even fathom, dream and pursue my own, so I have taken it upon myself to pay it forward. On this note, I have gotten feedback from girls and young women that me pursuing and sharing my own truth and purpose has encouraged them to do the same. In addition, I make sure to carve out time in my schedule to speak with and mentor other young girls and women in a one-on-one capacity, because of the uniquely profound effects that mentorship can have.
Tell us, Aerie fam, are you inspired by these stories? Let us know in the comments and share how you are celebrating International Day of the Girl below.