The Amazing Link Between Empowering Young Girls and Building a Strong Nation

BY Dermstore Editors · March 8, 2016

Research shows that the key indicator of success is not IQ—it’s resilience. But here’s an interesting fact: 1.2 million teens drop out of school every year—that’s about 7,000 per day—and it’s not because they’re not resilient enough. Many of them, especially girls from under-resourced communities, don’t get the encouragement and guidance they need to go to college, much less pursue a career. Others don’t come from families who place a high value on education. And a great many of them don’t feel like they have what it takes to be successful.

Here at DermStore, we believe that we women should stick together and help each other succeed. This is why we’ve partnered with Step Up, a nonprofit organization that brings professional women together to help inspire and empower girls from under-resourced communities to fulfill their potential. Through after-school and mentorship programs, Step Up hopes to build a strong network of resilient teenagers who dream of ending the cycle of poverty for their families by going to college and pursuing a career.

[Editor’s note: DermStore Inspires Video Contest  aims to raise awareness to this cause by recognizing the women in our everyday lives whose works and deeds continue to inspire, change and shape the lives of people around them. Learn more about the contest here.]

But why girls, you might ask. Why is it so important for us to empower these young women? And how would getting a college degree change their lives—more so our nation’s destiny? To answer these questions, we chatted with Step Up’s CEO Jenni Luke.

Step Up - DermStore

DERMSTORE: You’ve had a very successful career, what prompted you to join Step Up?
When I decided to leave an entertainment agency after five years of working my way up the ladder, learning from the best and serving talented clients, it was because I loved something else more. A passion for social justice and equal opportunity issues drew me to law school several years prior. Even though I didn’t love practicing law, I couldn’t leave behind the reasons I was drawn to it in the first place. Though it hurt to leave law, it was a conscious uncoupling.

 What’s it like being at the helm of Step Up, and how did it change your life?
At Step Up, I serve as the chief executive officer. We work with teen girls from under-resourced communities on graduating high school confident, college-bound, career-focused and ready to join the next generation of professional women. Whether I’m advocating my vision for the organization to the staff and board or persuading a global brand to support our work, I’m out there representing the best interests of our girls, the ultimate clients. To see these young women maturing in their confidence, developing a vision for the future and acting on that with the partnership of a community of women who will move heaven and earth to make it happen is a beautiful thing.

Why do you think it’s important to help other girls succeed? And how will pursuing a college degree help them?
When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families. So investing in the next generation of professional women will really change our future families and communities.

According to the United Nations Foundation and our partner, the Clinton Global Initiative America, every year of schooling increases a girl’s individual earning power by 10 to 20 percent, while the return on secondary education is even higher; in the 15 to 25 percent range. Girls’ education is proven to increase not only wage earners, but also productivity for employers, yielding benefits for the community and society. A mother with a few years of formal education is considerably more likely to send her children to school, breaking the intergenerational chain of poverty.


“When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families. So investing in the next generation of professional women will really change our future families and communities.” – Jenni Luke, Step Up CEO

What do you think is the biggest challenge girls from under-resourced communities face today? And how can ordinary women like us help?
Girls from under-resourced communities are often underestimated and overlooked, which limits their opportunities to experience life outside their communities. They may have strong family connections and other valuable resources in their community. However, if they aspire to go to college they may not have a role model to help them create a vision for themselves or to support them in achieving that goal. They may need different supports and relationships than may be available in their immediate community and people willing to step up and open doors.

I recently had the chance to give a TEDxYouth@Hewitt talk in New York City, where I shared Step Up’s perspective on social capital—the resources available to us through our relationships, including information, influence and credentials. We all have social capital, and the world is full of opportunities for us to use it on behalf of others. How we choose to use it is key. And it will affect our communities moving forward.

What else does Step Up hope to achieve in the next five years? How would you measure Step Up’s success?
We have a very clear strategic plan that ensures we’re focusing on only four things. We want to be a nationally recognized expert in working with girls from under-resourced communities to graduate high school confident, college-bound, career-focused and ready to join the next generation of professional women. We want to have reached 15,000 girls through our programs by 2020. We want to inspire an inclusive network of professional women to support the teens by sharing their collective experience, leveraging their resources and opening doors for experiential learning opportunities. And we want to accomplish all of that in a manner that is sustainable year after year.


Inspired? We need your help! Help us raise awareness to this cause by joining our #DermStoreInspires Video Contest. Nominate an inspirational woman in your life for her chance to be recognized during Step Up’s Annual Inspiration Awards in Los Angeles on May 20, 2016. (Her flight and accommodation on us!) Watch the video below to learn more.

Dermstore Editors

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