Most millennial browse Instagram when they’re bored – including Poonam Lal, a 26-year-old based in San Francisco, California. She typically ‘hearts’ a few pictures and leaves a few comments for her friends (and any/all cute puppies she sees) – but one night in August 2015 was different. While immersed in her social media feed, Poonam came across a post that brought a meaningful cause to her attention: Girl Rising. We catch up with her to learn more about what drives her to support girls' education.

How did you hear about and connect with this movement?

I found out about the organization by viewing an Instagram video posted by Priyanka Chopra, a famous actress and personal role model. Priyanka’s discussion about Girl Rising and its mission of bringing girls’ equality and rights to the forefront of conversation all over the globe was truly inspirational. As I began to look more into Girl Rising, I was forced to realize how fortunate I was when I was raised (and still am to this day). The fact that I’m able to say the same about all of my friends is a blessing. In contrast to my own experience, I read about the 6 million girls who are denied rights to education globally. The mere thought of being told ‘you cannot attend school’ due to your gender was mind-boggling to me. As a female, as a daughter of immigrants, as a first-generation college graduate, and as a global citizen, I immediately knew I had to do my part to help aid Girl Rising in their mission to give every girl a chance at access to education.

What brought on the idea of hosting a fundraiser?

After being accepted into GR’s Ambassador program during early 2016, I held a few informational screenings about the original Girl Rising film – but I knew I wanted to do something more. I wanted to continue raising awareness about Girl Rising in a more social environment that would gain more traction across various networks in the Bay Area. My professional background centers around client relationship management and endless amounts of number planning – I had no excuse but to marry my skill set with this meaningful cause. Before I knew it, I had a venue secured, invites sent out via social media, and every single day for a month was dedicated to obsessing over all aspects of my fundraiser event. When all was said and done, I was very proud to see that we raised over $10,000 from the fundraiser!

Contributors at the Fundraiser

What has been the biggest takeaway from the fundraiser?

The biggest takeaway from my fundraiser was the humbling support, encouragement, and acknowledgment from friends and strangers. During moments of frustration or self-doubt, the simple messages or calls I’d receive from friends expressing their positive thoughts kept me going. As the event drew near, close friends and new acquaintances began asking me “How can I help you?” That simple thought meant the world to me, as I realized that I couldn’t accomplish everything on my own. The African proverb “it takes a village” is the epitome of how I feel about the support I received. It was so inspiring to not only see so many familiar faces attending the event, but just as many new faces; word had actually spread! Even post-event, I received emails and Facebook messages from people I didn’t know who heard about the fundraiser event through the grapevine and wanted to know how they could be a part of my fundraisers going forward – success! Everything came full circle; I was beyond grateful that many others were just as inspired by Girl Rising and ready to get involved in the cause in any way possible.

What programs will you support with the funds raised and why?

I decided to focus my funds raised on Girl Rising’s ENGAGE initiative in India – a campaign that stands for Empowering Next Generations to Advance Girls’ Education. The program’s implementation in the states of Bihar and Rajasthan over the past year has successfully re-enrolled 653 children into schools and formed 100 adolescent groups in both the states. As one of the largest economies in the world, there is so much untapped potential in India that needs as much attention and aid as possible.

If there were one piece of advice that you could give to the girls across the world, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for help. No one arrives at success alone, and it’s imperative that we encourage questions to be asked, concepts to be challenged, and new ideas to be created. This is advice I have to remind myself to take often as well. Just as ‘it took a village’ to achieve the success of my event, it takes the same support between multiple individuals (whether locally or globally) to arrive at a goal.

Poonam Lal

What do you hope 2017 will bring to the movement of girls' education?

I hope 2017 will shed light on more passionate, persistent, and driven individuals across the globe who are fearlessly and peacefully bringing change to various underserved communities. Malala Yousafzai, Michelle Obama, Emma Watson, and Hilary Clinton are a few examples of individuals who have brought attention, expertise, and change to their respective areas of focus during recent years. I look up to these leaders with the utmost respect. I have no doubt that the 21st century will continue to produce many more talented individuals fighting for rights across the globe, and I hope my micro efforts can contribute towards global success.