By Jennifer Dooley – Many people have asked me why I have a passion for girls and women’s rights issues. They’ve also asked me why I am spending time each year volunteering with the United Nations Foundation Girl Up campaign in Washington.

So, let me tell you my story…

I completed a PhD in social marketing from a small University located along the coast of Sydney, Australia. The experiences I had while based in Australia inspired me to take my knowledge and apply it to real-life social issues. When I finished my PhD, I continued to pour my heart into running my own consulting practice, Dooley Social Change, and our social cause oriented clients and fields. However, when I returned to North America over a year ago, I was more motivated than ever to contribute to social issues that women faced.

Why? …

In 2015 I relocated to Melbourne, Australia where I discovered the organization (and our client) VicHealth. For the duration of my contract with VicHealth, I worked to support their initiative of preventing violence against women by carrying out research and stakeholder interviews with organizations such as Australian Football League, to inform a marketing communications plan that encourages diversity and inclusion within Australia.

The work was an incredible eye-opener for me. I was shocked to learn that every week in Australia, a woman is killed by her current or former partner – a statistic that still unnerves me today. I knew I wanted to continue to do whatever I could to help women in Australia, and around the world. I went on to present at conferences in Australia about the growing issue of preventing violence against women and since have contributed my learning’s to speaking engagements locally, most recently the Women’s Leadership Conference at the University of Calgary in Canada.

“Every person has the potential to make a difference in the life of a girl.” – Girl Up Campaign, 2017 United Nations Foundation

When I first moved back to North America, I wasn’t quite sure which avenue I should follow to help women deal with the social issues they face. At the time, I was spending my time in New York City working with a US-based client and visiting family where I was blessed to meet John Gerzema, CEO of BAV Consulting and a true leadership guru. His “Athena Doctrine”, which describes the power of strong leadership, some of which many have labeled as “feminine”, is an ethos that I try to tap into everyday. Athena traits are present in both women and men and are changing the way we do business today. His theory is one that includes leadership principles, such as compassion and care. Beyond opening my mind to a unique approach, John invited me to attend an invite only United Nations Foundation Girl Up Leadership Summit. I couldn’t turn him down.

When I first arrived in Washington (July 2016), I was nervous, but excited to be involved in a cause I felt passionately about. Girl Up was a unique and welcoming space where a belief in empowering girls and women was incredibly apparent. Filled with social cause experts, corporate executives, members of Congress, and 300 passionate young female leaders in the making from countries around the world, the summit was a tangible exercise in what I believe in. Over the course of my time there, the team worked to teach these young girls core leadership skills, and to model to them that they are powerful, strong, important, and can transform their communities.

“We’re only doing half the battle by empowering girls.” – Holly Dowling, Girl Up Partner

While at the summit, I had the blessing of meeting inspiring leaders and entrepreneurs who believe passionately in empowering, educating, and emboldening girls and women. Some of these people include Liz Plank, a senior producer at and all around gender equality warrior, Ingrid Vanderveldt the first Entrepreneur-in-Residence for Dell and the current CEO of the Empowering a Billion Women by 2020 movement, and Ashley Graham, a plus sized model and body positivity activist changing the fashion industry and whose work has appeared on the cover of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour, and Elle.

Difficult conversations were had. Whether it was conversations about the challenges young girls face within North America – eating disorders to achieve a “thin ideal” (for example) or the struggle some business women face to have an equal seat at the boardroom. We also spoke about the challenges girls face in developing countries – topics included: child marriage, safe access to transportation to and from schools (a contributing factor to why 15 million girls will not get the chance to learn to read or write), or the unwavering number of girls world wide who don’t have birth certificates. I walked away from the conference not only as a Partner for Girl Up, but with the motivation to refocus on my consulting business full tilt.

Girl Up Jennifer Dooley

Jennifer (far right) with other 2017 Girl Up Partners

Fast forward to my second consecutive attendance at Girl Up in 2017, with this year’s focus on discussing the importance of mentorship and leadership. I listened as Canada’s own Sophie Grégoire Trudeau urged young women to believe in themselves and in their ability to shape the world. Mrs. Trudeau encouraged men and women alike to “appreciate and love themselves, to not compare themselves with one another or try to put themselves in a box.” In alignment with the Athena Doctrine, another speaker and facilitator by the name of Holly Dowling, a familiar face from the conference the year before, went on to facilitate a discussion about “Shattering the Glass Ceiling”. Dowling brought focus on the risk of limiting beliefs, and encouraged leadership participants to “own your own voice”.  The attendees and speakers at Girl Up, had a profound impact on me, and validated my continued work back in Canada.

“Believe in yourself, don’t listen to the naysayers. Dreams happen.” – Anousheh Ansari, First Female Private Space Explorer, 2017 Girl Up Summit Speaker

Today, I provide services to a range of clients, and have grown Dooley Social Change from a small group of local clients to an international portfolio. My clients range from climate conscious brands, women’s rights, health foundations, non profit organizations, government, universities, arts initiatives, to private industries. My work has been featured in over 10 articles in academic peer-reviewed journals, conference proceedings, and book chapters and as an editor of a marketing book for Professor Hastings. In my spare time I promote sustainable fashion and am passionate about photography. My future plans include expanding my mentorship and leadership to start-ups, creative industries, and leadership training for both men and women.

Lead image: credit to Jennifer Dooley, pictured far right at the 2017 Girl Up Summit