Interview by Megan Foo
Emily Raleigh is a sophomore at Fordham University, studying Entrepreneurship, Communications and Media Management, and Visual Arts. She is the Founder of the Smart Girls Group, a one stop shop for the next generation of superstar women that provides all of the tools and resources young women need to succeed across all facets of life. As part of her work with the Smart Girls Group, Emily organized a partnership with the nonprofit organization She’s the First, and the Kopilla Valley School in Nepal, to sponsor girls’ education in developing nations.
Women LEAD: What is your background?
Emily Raleigh: I am a sophomore in college at Fordham University and I’m studying Marketing and Communications and Media Management in the Gabelli business school and I’m from a small barrier island on the Jersey Shore called Long Beach Island. I’m extremely passionate about uniting and empowering the next generation of superstar women, which I do through a company called The Smart Girls Group that I started during my senior year in high school.
Women LEAD: You are the Founder of The Smart Girls Group, which aims to unite the next generation of superstar women in a sisterhood environment. Can you tell us more about The Smart Girls Group?
Emily Raleigh: 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 Year’s Resolution to start The Smart Girls Group.
The Smart Girls Group is a one stop shop for the next generation of superstar women. We arm young women with the tools that they need to succeed in all facets of life, all in a unique sisterhood environment. We have a monthly magazine called Smart Girl’s Guide, daily news, campus chapters throughout the US, Canada, and Europe, online classes, an online community, and more. Our goal is to provide girls with that “Smart Girl option” for everything they do throughout their day, whether that is what they read, who they hang out with, or how they spend their free time. The top priority is definitely the sisterhood aspect, which is connecting girls across the globe, and that’s definitely my favorite part about it.
Women LEAD: How can girls get involved with The Smart Girls Group?
Emily Raleigh: We have a very inclusive community because I wanted to eliminate that clique-y environment girls experience in high school and college. We welcome any girl who wishes to get involved, on the grounds that to be a Smart Girl Sister, you must share your smarts with the sisterhood in some way. Most of the girls are writers, but we also have artists and performers and organizers, and such. As of last week, we have girls from 47 states and 21 countries, all between the ages of 13 and 25.
Women LEAD: Can you describe one woman who has encouraged or inspired you in your life?
Emily Raleigh: Oh my gosh that’s tricky! My inspiration board in my room must have at least 50 women on it, with more being added every day.
The number one Smart Girl for me is my nana. She embodies what it means to be a Smart Girl. She is the hardest working woman I have ever met in my entire life, she emanates confidence, and it is astounding how much she cares for other people. She’s the kind of nana who will call me when she knows I have a big exam or when a new Smart Girl’s Guide is going live, yet I’m one of 18 grandkids. She has raised 4 very Smart Girls, one being my mom, and because of my nana, I, along with my sister and all of my cousins, have grown up believing that we can do anything and that we should be Smart Girls above all else.
Women LEAD: Why is the solidarity of women important to you? What do women’s empowerment and leadership mean to you?
Emily Raleigh: That’s a really good question. I have grown up in a home where my parents were a team; there was always this idea of equality and they always told my sister and I that we can do anything we set our minds to. Our Barbies had to have brains, so we had Doctor Barbie, Teacher Barbie, and President Barbie. Everything in our lives was based around being a Smart Girl. However, when I was in middle school and high school, I started to realize that not every girl believed she was smart and sometimes even saw boys as superior to her. Naturally, that didn’t sit with me well. When I got involved with Operation Smile in high school, I took a particular interest in young girls in the developing world. The solidarity of women became so important to me because whether you are a girl in the developing world or a girl who was in my middle school class, we are all in this together. When one woman succeeds and breaks the glass ceiling, we all do, and we need to see it as such. To me, women empowerment is empowering yourself and empowering your sister. We need to all channel our smarts and utilize them to live the lives we dream, while also making a positive change for other women. Leadership is when you use those smarts to be a leader in your own life, following your dreams whatever they may be, and in turn helping someone else follow theirs as well.
Women LEAD: What would you say are the biggest challenges to ending gender-based discrimination and gender inequality worldwide?
Emily Raleigh: The biggest challenge, and my mission, is for women to believe they are smart. Think about it. You look on the cover of a magazine and a guy is in a suit, and he looks like he is ruling the world. Meanwhile, women are on covers without clothes on and are retouched to the point they look like porcelain dolls. Is that putting men and women on an equal playing field? No.
In the developing world, only one in every five girls will finish primary school. Culture plays a big part in it, but we need to change this. We need to change the stigma that women are not as intelligent as men – because it simply isn’t true – and we need to empower women to believe that they are smart. The biggest challenge in doing this is changing the media and changing the culture. It’s not easy, but it’s possible and that’s all we need.
Women LEAD: What advice would you give to prospective youth entrepreneurs?
Emily Raleigh: 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? Are you fiecely passionate about going green? Take it all into consideration. When you are starting a business, 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.