Girl Boss – Stories from the Field
This article was written by Agata Rutkowska-Mandava. Agata is both the Curriculum Director and a Girl Boss Advisor located in India. She is an essential part of the Launch gURLs team and vital in the running of the Girl Boss pilot program.
I can’t. Can I? I can.
For many young people, support systems are small and very limited in scope. Growing up with a ‘No, I can’t!’ mindset and constantly facing systematic barriers, many do not see themselves as valuable or having bright futures. But we know that every girl has immense potential and is capable of taking agency over her life. She only needs a launchpad to tap into that potential.
As an educator and curriculum creator, I am excited by the possibility of changing every girl’s ‘I can’t’ to an ‘I can.’ I know that if a girl is given the right exposure, tools, resources, and a trusted support system, she can seize opportunities and become independent.
Who is a Girl Boss Advisor?
Initially, the role of a Girl Boss Advisor (GBA) was to support our program participants, Girl Bosses, in completing the curriculum activities and understanding complex concepts. This would directly impact their self-confidence and belief that they can set a business vision and build it from the ground up.
Since its inception, this role has immensely evolved for me personally. As I join the Girl Bosses on their entrepreneurial journeys, I’m realizing that my role goes way beyond ‘advising’. One can’t advise or support well without knowing the other people, so my role is really about fostering human connections. It was only when I formed relationships with my Girl Bosses, that they started opening up to me, felt nurtured, and exercised varied talents. ,Most importantly, it was then that they began to really place trust in me and in their ability to succeed.
What does Girl Boss Advising feel like?
It’s a process, a two-way street with an emphasis on the journey rather than the final destination. I encourage the girls to keep their eyes on the final business plan and pitch that they need to deliver but at the same time stay curious, embrace failures, learn from them, and don’t get hung up on what is standing in their way.
I guide them on their paths, but don’t create them or share too many of my own ideas. The girls like to be challenged in a way that takes their thinking one step further, leaving them feeling accomplished. To promote growth in the program, we encourage self-reflection and being proactive so that they can sustain this growth when the official pilot program comes to an end.
Girl Bosses often look up to their advisors as role-models— they seek to know more about their GBA’s background, experiences, and life stories. I’m there to help them build their idea of self and what their skill sets are. The goal is to learn and grow, but also to understand who they already are.
In the midst of a global pandemic, that has restricted nearly every facet of our lives, it’s so much harder to find motivation within ourselves to be productive and get things done. Spanning from a lack of time, mental strain, to civil unrest in their countries, the vast range of challenges in addition to the pandemic leave girls disheartened. In this context, interactions with GBAs provide a respite from the daily stresses and a motivational boost. It is tough enough for any of us to be productive in the best of times, let alone in the middle of a global pandemic.
The experience of being a GBA made me go down memory lane to the time when the roles were reversed and I was the mentee. Professor Pauline Dixon, my dissertation supervisor at Newcastle University, was my ‘Girl Boss Advisor’ back then. A powerhouse of a woman, she helped turn my life around. I looked up to her as she pushed through every challenge, always looking on the bright side. Most importantly, she was one of the first people in my life to believe in my potential (way more than I did!) and give me that extra push to realize it. Thanks to her, in March 2008, I opted to visit Hyderabad to conduct research for my dissertation. During that time I met my husband and moved to India in 2012 with the hope of living a life filled with love, meaning, and adventure. Eight years later, I am still in India living that life.
What should a GBA be? A GBA should be an advisor, a mentor, a guide, a girl champion cheering from the sidelines. But most importantly, a person who cares. There is no bigger joy than sowing the seeds of ‘I can’ in a girl and watching them take on every challenge out there! And it makes me look forward to every Monday morning to contribute to it.