There are some board rooms that should hear from the high schoolers in the Girls Advisory Board on how to develop consensus.
“I think the biggest thing for me is that consensus doesn’t mean that we’re all 100 percent in agreement, it’s that some of us may have to compromise in order for the group to move forward,” said Ria, a high school senior and second-year participant in GAB, sounding wise beyond her years.
An initiative of the Chester County Fund for Women and Girls currently in its 14th class, Girls Advisory Board gives high school girls from across the county the opportunity to work together to make grants to nonprofits.
Consensus is important for the program: The girls act collaboratively as granting philanthropists the whole way — from RFPs to budget review, site visits and final grant decisions.
This year’s participants decided that their funding priority would be organizations involved in addressing violence against women, supporting low-income and/or single mothers to increase financial security, and facilitating access to sexual and reproductive health and education.
The group will ultimately grant out around $20,000 this year.
Michelle Legaspi Sanchez, executive director of CCFWG, said that the program is at the heart of what the organization does.
“A lot of change can be made my influencing young women and girls,” Legaspi Sanchez said. “Girls are powerful just by their nature and so to kind of turn them loose by teaching them and making them aware of what’s going on in their community, it’s going to inevitably address all the other issues that we care about.”
CCFWG helps equip the girls participating in GAB for leadership and decision-making through a variety of programming, including reviewing the use of data in directing efforts like grant-making. One exercise undertaken at the beginning of the program is community mapping, which Legaspi Sanchez said helps the girls “get a sense of what’s going on beyond their orbits.”
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The girls then get to know some of the challenges facing Chester County. An important piece of the curriculum is CCFWG’s Blueprint Report, the organization’s needs assessment of women and girls in Chester County. (One featured fact: The median household income for female households is $53,541, compared to $85,373 for all households.)
In addition to gaining a better understanding of their community, the girls also gain perspectives on their own leadership.
“I feel more comfortable sharing my ideas because I’ve accepted that not everyone’s going to agree with me, and I know that just putting out my opinion is important,” said Alyssa, a high-schooler and second-year GAB participant. “And vice-versa with other people. It’s not just my mind in the world.”
A key part of GAB is a maintaining a relatively small in number of the girls making grant decisions, said Legaspi Sanchez: “The intimacy is really powerful and effective, just building the consensus, and just building the camaraderie among the girls.”
To maintain that small feeling while serving more girls, CCFWG created the second-year program within GAB through which girls can choose to become leaders among the grant-making group, or pursue tracks in civic engagement or entrepreneurship.
Three GAB participants —Ria, Alyssa and Victoria — are in the second-year entrepreneurship track. (Ria happens to be the daughter of B Lab cofounder Jay Coen Gilbert.) Among the facets of this piece of the program is getting paired with a mentor in the community, and developing a fundraising project.
The entrepreneurship team has decided to host a fundraiser in the spring in King of Prussia Mall to generate awareness about sex trafficking and raise funds for relevant organizations.
Participating in the GAB program has helped the girls to not only identify issues in their community, but also find like-minded individuals who are passionate about change.
“It helped me realize that there are actually young people who want to make a difference out there,” Victoria said.