Girl Up’s Virtual Summit Empowers Thousands of Young Leaders

Girl Up Communications & Digital Media Associate and Quantic Alum, Naomi Naik, helps girls broaden their social impact skillset, apply STEM for good, and create policy change. This leadership program, founded by the United Nations Foundation, reaches tens of thousands of girls around the world. When COVID-19 hit, she knew their mostly in-person global leadership summits would need to adapt to the “new normal.” Her team worked diligently to create a virtual platform that gained the attention of many global leaders and was viewed by thousands of attendees. Here is her story: 

When the United Nations Foundation decided to go remote in March, I knew this would be a unique time that would present professional and personal challenges that none of us had previously experienced. Shortly after the virtual workplace pivot, UNF launched the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund through a virtual press conference with Director General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros. This fund pools resources from companies, philanthropies, and individuals to contribute directly to WHO’s work to prevent, detect, and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of the last week of July, the Fund has raised over $225 million from more than 560,000 individuals, companies, and philanthropies. Although these efforts would not have been a priority without the virus, the ability for our organization as a whole to set this up in a matter of days after closing our physical office was inspiring enough for my own team to take some notes.

I manage digital and editorial strategy at Girl Up, a leadership development movement that engages, trains, and mobilizes girls around the world to take action to achieve global gender equality. Girl Up provides leadership training and gives girls tools to become gender equality advocates and activists. Through our programs, girls broaden their social impact skillset, benefit from a platform to tell their stories, and apply STEM for social good. Our girl leaders create real policy change at local and national levels, help raise millions of dollars to support United Nations programs that reach tens of thousands of girls around the world, and build community-based movements. Girl Up was founded by the United Nations Foundation in 2010, and continues to work across a global community of partners to achieve gender equality worldwide.

Most of Girl Up’s engagement with girls around the world occurs in-person, at our global Leadership Summits, STEM bootcamps, and professional development panels. We had to adapt this component of our organization ASAP in order to keep up with the times. By the third week of March, we had lined up panels and webinars for our community to hear from girl activists, global leaders, and professionals in the fields of gender equality, mental health, STEM, storytelling, and social justice.

These panels brought in over 2,000 attendees weekly, almost surpassing the number of girls we can usually host at an in-person event by tenfold. 

However, another challenge lay ahead: How would we host our annual Girl Up Leadership Summit virtually? The “Zoom fatigue” was beginning to set in, and not in an escapable way. We brainstormed how to create an interactive experience online that could increase our reach given the Summit was usually in Washington, D.C. and capped at 450 attendees.

Our team worked diligently for weeks, in the midst of also hosting a massive graduation celebration for the Class of 2020 and re-evaluating our curriculum with the new wave of social justice accountability. We made sure all of our programming would give girls a platform to speak on the current situation around the world when it came to the intersectionality of gender equality and socioeconomic barriers, racial justice, climate change, period poverty, and so many other important topics. 

And then the speakers began to confirm:

And so many more! We never imagined that going virtual would actually allow for our organization to catch the attention of global leaders and changemakers like these. And that lack of expectations, but overflowing aspirations brought in more than 80 speakers, 40,000 global attendees and quite a few new sponsors. 

Being a Quantic MBA student during this experience made me a valuable asset to my team as well. Using my supply & operations coursework to guide how we set up “flow” within the virtual platform, using my strategy coursework to work together with sponsors to optimize our partnerships, and using my data & decisions coursework to then analyze all the data post-Summit allowed me to put my education to true use in a high-stakes setting.

My story is not unique if you examine how many organizations have been forced to innovate. However, the impact of the 2020 Girl Up Leadership Summit is already tangible as girls have started 52 Clubs last week alone, signed up for five future virtual events, and been part of 3.6 billion social media impressions for Girl Up, just this month. One day, COVID-19 will be over, but the effect will be everlasting on all of us, especially our youth. It’s imperative we use these times to not only inspire and push ourselves to create something new, but also help this generation and generations to come find their passions to turn them into action.

The Quantic community can’t wait to see what’s next for Naomi, Girl Up, and the bright futures of the countless young leaders that they will continue to inspire to help make this world a better place.