Name: Emily Raleigh
College: Fordham University
Class Year: Sophomore (Class of 2016)
Major: Entrepreneurship (specialization in Communication and Media Management) and Computer Science
Why She’s in Center Stage: Founder of The Smart Girls Group (they just relaunched their website and it looks FABULOUS!)
Social Media Fun-ness: Find SGG on Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.
Get Involved with SGG: Click HERE.
What is The Smart Girls Group (SGG)?
The Smart Girls Group unites, empowers, and inspires the next generation of superstar women in our unique sisterhood environment. We serve to provide products, resources, and opportunities for all of our Smart Girl Sisters, who are between middle school and college. We currently have a monthly digital magazine, Smart Girl’s Guide, a daily blog, Smart Girl’s Loop, a custom internship program, and campus chapters throughout the country.
There are girls all over the globe who have the power to be change the world. They want to become the first women presidents in their respective countries. They want to find the cures for diseases. They want to start their own businesses. They want to be Supreme Court justices. They want to be CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. They want to be editors-in-chief. They want to serve the oppressed.
The problem is, they are often on their own. Guidance counselors and advisors often have hundreds of students that they are responsible for. Coaches and teachers do not always see potential beyond their areas of expertise. Parents are sometimes ill informed of all of the opportunities available to their daughters. Friends can have ulterior motives for their advice or support, or lack thereof. Moreover, there are more places for girls to get into trouble than places to empower them to be all that they can be. That’s where The Smart Girls Group comes in.
The Smart Girls Group unites girls all over the world who want to go above and beyond expectations and we support them along their journey to success. We connect them internationally through our online community, as well as in person through our campus programs, and someday, through conferences, and various live events and groups. Our goal is to cultivate an international sisterhood for these girls so that they have the support system they need and the friends that they deserve. Plus, who doesn’t want sisters from all over the world?! Furthermore, we are non-exclusive. We believe every girl who wants to be part of The Smart Girls Group should because we know it will help her be all that she wants to be. That is why we have an Involvement Guarantee, which states that any girl who would like to get involved in The Smart Girls Group is allowed to do so.
What made you decide to start SGG?
The Smart Girls Group idea really started when I was a little girl. I would walk downstairs every morning after putting on my outfit for school, and ask, “Mommy, do I look smart?” I was raised on the concept of the Smart Girl and that image drove me through the mean girls of middle school, the crazy pressure of high school, and the choices that come with college. With that in mind, I wrote a book for my freshman sister, Sophie, during my senior year of high school that was a how to guide for surviving and succeeding in high school. I gave it to her for Christmas and my family really wanted me to get it published. The problem was, I wanted to do something that would be more than just a book, something that was continuous. So on New Year’s Day, I made my New Years Resolution to start The Smart Girls Group.
We initially had 9 girls involved, and released a small magazine that we planned to only be 10 pages long. Soon enough, the sisterhood began to grow and so did our products. What keeps us moving is the girls and we truly have a group of girls who will change the world.
How did you find your team, and how have you grown your team since then?
That’s always such a funny question to answer! Our original team of 9 were a mix of family members, friends, and bloggers who I connected with via email. I’m so grateful that they, for whatever reason, believed in a high school senior’s crazy idea. Amazingly enough, of the original 9, 6 are still with us and still very active Smart Girl Sisters!
Since then, each girl really has had her own story. Some girls hear about it through blogs that my Smart Girl Sisters write, while others hear about it through social media. Many, though, hear about it through word of mouth. People don’t always think word of mouth is a powerful tool, but if you get really passionate girls, they tell the Smart Girl story better than I sometimes do! We have reached girls as far as Australia, just through word of mouth!
As far as numbers, our team went from 9 girls to 200+ from 10 countries and 37 states. Our goal is to have 500 girls by January 1 of 2014, and I have no doubt that we will do it!
The number of opportunities for ladies to get involved with SGG are endless! Could you talk about some of these different components of your organization (Smart Girls’ Loop, Smart Girls’ Guide, your custom internship program, etc.)?
We wanted every girl to feel welcome in SGG, so providing opportunities that cater to busy schedules, varying interests, and ages was and is our top priority. We want our girls to be as invested in SGG as we are in them. We didn’t want to make that a membership monetary fee simply because a tool as powerful as The Smart Girls Group should not be limited to girls who can pay for it. Instead, we came up with the Involvement Guarantee: every Smart Girl between high school and age 25 can get involved in The Smart Girls Group, being that they are willing to contribute something back to the sisterhood in some way.
Currently, girls can take on nearly 25 different opportunities within SGG, ranging from being a contributing writer to a social media leader to a web developer, among many others. We have split it up into a few departments: our magazine, Smart Girl’s Guide, our aggregated blog, Smart Girl’s Loop, our campus chapter program, social media, web development, marketing & sales, operations, and of course, our custom internship program. The best part is, if you don’t fall into any of these categories, you can even apply to take on a personal project, where you initiate a new program of some sort inside of SGG. It’s an amazing way for girls to learn new skills, while pursuing what excites them!
Our custom internship program is a virtual internship program, where Smart Girls get the opportunity to work with a staff member on a specific initiative within SGG. What makes it so cool is that we look at each application and determine a role that will work perfectly with their aspirations, while adding something of value to their resumes. We don’t have cookie cutter internships where girls are doing our dirty work. They are taking on leadership roles and are developing new and exciting things for SGG, complete with tangible results and all. We have internships for the spring, summer, fall, and even a shorter one during winter break! We are accepting applications for the fall up until September 10th, so apply if you are looking for an amazing internship that works with your schedule and will make your resume sparkle!
What do you think has made SGG such a huge success?
Simply put, it’s my Smart Girl Sisters. They are an amazing, and growing, group of girls who are just as excited about this as I am. There is not a day that goes by that a girl emails us, interested in joining the sisterhood, who didn’t hear about it from one of our Smart Girl Sisters. Considering there are approximately 200 girls in SGG and we have reached other corners of the globe, that’s pretty remarkable. We will always be a company defined by our sisters. If they are happy, we are successful.
When you’re not being a Smart Girl, you’re still being a smart girl! How did you choose Fordham University, and what are you studying there?
How I chose Fordham still amazes me! I was originally going to Boston College, but then after visiting Fordham, I knew it was the perfect fit and decided on May 1 to change my mind. From the moment I walked on campus, they did not just believe in me as a capable student; they believed in The Smart Girls Group. In so many ways it is perfect. It is absolutely stunning, with its lush landscape, beautiful old buildings, and very collegiate atmosphere. It is in the heart of New York City, which is arguably the most magical city in the world (plus the opportunities in the city are endless). But more than anything, it feels like home. From the Jesuit priest, Father Phil, who was my housemaster this past year to the amazing community of entrepreneurs on campus, to the super ambitious, caring students who I have had the pleasure of getting to know, Fordham really is a special place.
I am studying Entrepreneurship in the Gabelli School of Business with a specialization in Communications and Media Management, and Computer Science in Fordham College. Fun fact: our entrepreneurship program is one of the top 25 in the nation and we just opened a small business incubator off campus! If you are an entrepreneur, I cannot suggest Fordham more highly. The Smart Girls Group would not be where we are without it!
How has what you learned in high school and college helped you in terms of SGG?
In high school, I think more than anything I learned why the world needs more Smart Girls. It taught me the importance of believing that you were smart because there were so many girls, like any high school, that didn’t feel that way about themselves. The problem is, when you don’t believe you are smart, you don’t believe that you have potential. This leads to bad decisions that affect your life in high school and beyond. I saw that far too often and I hope that we can change that for girls because they are too smart to stand in their own way.
As far as college, the better question is, what haven’t I learned? Of course, the entrepreneurship program at Fordham changed my life, as I already mentioned.
I also got involved in Compass Fellowship, which is a national fellowship for social entrepreneurs. I learned an unbelievable amount about social business and how to best lead The Smart Girls Group into a future that helps the superstar girls of the world in the best, most socially good way possible. My mentors, advisors, and friends from there completely transformed me as a Smart Girl and as a businesswoman. Aside from that, I learned through exploring New York City, talking to professors, and simply spending time with Smart Girls from Fordham. It is amazing what you can learn from your friends and they taught me so much this past year.
If you could give any piece of advice to your fifteen year-old self, what would it be?
Stop obsessing over college! I was seriously OBSESSED about getting into college and in the end, I didn’t go to what I originally determined was my “dream school.” I went to the school that gave me huge scholarships, fit me to the T, and believed in my vision for The Smart Girls Group. The reality is, Fordham ended up being my dream school, but obsessing over college and putting so much pressure on myself just wasn’t necessary.
Proudest SGG moment thus far?
That’s a tough one! I’m easily excited, so choosing a single moment is tricky. However, I would say April 13th of this year was probably it. That was when I was at the Compass Fellowship National Shift Series Summit and was awarded the Kenneth Cole AWEARNESS Grant for The Smart Girls Group. As great as it was to be recognized, what truly made it my proudest moment was when the people from Kenneth Cole said, “During the voting period, we couldn’t believe how you rallied people to vote so quickly! You had 90% of the votes!” I simply replied, “You don’t know my sisters. They are the reason I’m standing here.”
As I stood there with $5,000 in my hand, all I could think about was my Smart Girl Sisters. They made this happen. Girls from all over the world, from every walk of life, believed in a high school girl’s crazy dream. Each and every day I am astounded at what The Smart Girls Group is capable of doing thanks to these girls. I am just proud to be a part of this ride and could not be more grateful to have been given this idea.
What advice would you give to girls (and guys!) looking to start an organization and/or series of online publications?
Think about what gets you up in the morning. Are you a sports fanatic? Do you find yourself spending hours on Pinterest, pinning pictures of gorgeous cupcakes? Take it all into consideration. Whether you are starting an organization, a series of online publications, or even a small personal project, make sure that it makes you smile when you think about it. I love The Smart Girls Group so much that I will get so wrapped up in it that I’ve stayed awake for nearly 48 hours at a time just because I don’t want to stop working on it. Your venture needs to be something that doesn’t just make you get up at 5am. It should make you practically jump out of bed.
Where do you see yourself and SGG in five years?
Oh wow, I’ll be 24. That seems light years away! I hope by then that I’m personally running a marathon each season of the year. I’m training for a 10K now, and my goal is to run a marathon in 2014. Aside from that, I see myself living in New York City, spending every moment I can at the beach (I live 20 steps from it now!), and hopefully by then I have mastered the art of walking in heals. That last one is doubtful, but hey, a girl can dream.
As far as SGG, whether you are talking 5 years or 50, I hope that we are continuing to unite the next generation of superstar women. There are so many amazing things that we can do with the company and the sisterhood, so I am just excited to see what ideas come my way and what my Smart Girl Sisters have in store for us. While I can’t plan exactly what will happen in five years, I can tell you that September 1st of this year (TODAY), when we are relaunching The Smart Girls Group, has all been planned and BIG, super exciting things are coming.
Cover image by Elizabeth Zanghi.