We sat down at a small table in the middle of the coffee shop. Angie Jiang beamed enthusiasm and spoke passionately of tales of her time as teen advisor at the UN Foundation’s Girl Up organization. “It’s been a wild ride,” she began with a laugh.
I’ve known Angie for some time, and I was beyond excited for the opportunity to discuss her ventures with Girl Up since she became one of 20 teen advisors of the organization. Angie is one of the most kind, most intelligent and most remarkable girls I have ever met; and here she sat, at the age of 16, with the results of the Alabama senate race in hand, discussing her plans for her 17th birthday. Deep down, she was ready to spill her thoughts on midterm predictions. She adjusted her glasses and laced her fingers together, smiling radiantly. “Okay so… Girl Up,” she explained to me what Girl Up is and how it all started. Angie explained that Girl Up is a part of the UN Foundation (UNF), an organization and nonprofit founded by Ted Turner, founder of CNN. Turner founded the UN Foundation after observing the United State’s lack of contribution towards international efforts for humanitarian aid and outreach for developing nations. Turner hopes the organization would support UN’s goals to “promote a more peaceful, prosperous and just world.” The foundation launched in 1998 with a $1 billion dollar grant by Turner; since then, the foundation has expanded to support various subfields. These programs and issues include Nothing But Net, Shot@Life, and Girl Up, which was founded in 2010.
“Girl Up directly contributes to girls’ education and health programs, specifically adolescent girls, and there are clubs all around the world” Angie explained. “It’s a campaign made for girls, by girls.” Angie first became involved as an active member in her high school’s Universal Education Partnership Club, which later became a Girl Up club under Angie’s time as president the past two years. The Madison West Girl Up group has already raised $1,400 towards their $2,000 goal for the year. The group has also been involved in numerous projects and discussions to further awareness and advocacy for girl’s access to education around the world.
Realizing her passions for girl’s education and advocacy on both the local and global scale, Angie applied to the Girl Up teen advisor program for the class of 2017-2018. “[The application process] forced me to explore my identity and relationship with myself, how I navigate the world and the intersection of being Chinese, being a woman, being queer,” Angie explained how the multi-round application process led her on her own road of personal growth and self-discovery. “It was an interesting way to articulate who I am as a person onto a form.”
With her acceptance into the teen advisor program, Angie flew to Washington DC for the Girl Up Leadership Summit this past summer. “It was like 500 girls from all across the world coming together, learning about leaderships, learning about how they can contribute, create clubs, fundraise effectively,” Angie spoke with a gleam in her eye and a slight gaze into the distance as she recalled the profound and empowering experiences. Angie also flew to New York City to speak at the UNF Mashable Social Goods summit and interview Madame Gandhi; the two talked about youth activism and how important it is even if you aren’t able to vote, to contribute your voice to the conversation, Angie added.
Aside from interviews and conferences, Girl Up has also enabled Angie to build profound personal relationships. “We all fangirl over each other, we’re all BFF’s, we have a group snapchat, it’s just great,” Angie emphasized her admiration and love of her fellow teen advisors. The diversity of the 2017-2018 Girl Up advisor class, especially, is something about which Angie spoke with pride. “Having 80 percent of us being people of color, we bring in a new audience,” Angie said. “We’re truly a passionate community, and we love each other.”
Angie is also involved with the Advocacy Committee within her group of advisors. “It’s already passed the house. I have to continually lobby, [and] Tammy Baldwin has co-sponsored,” Angie said of the Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act, a bill the group has proposed to the Senate. “[The bill is] a resolution galvanizing the U.S. government to fund programs of or relating to refugee women and girls in particular.” The bill follows up on Girl Count, another bill that Girl Up authored and passed in Congress.
Angie also values long-term issues and consider them as the most pressing. “Even though they might not have impact immediately, they have the biggest impacts in terms of time frame,” Angie added. Alongside her active lobbying work with Girls Count and Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act, however, Angie also preached the importance of interpersonal work. “Having conversations and building relationships with your legislatures, I think, is just as important as trying to get a bill passed.”
Angie encourages young women to get involved by reaching out to teen advisors like herself. “My door is always open!” Angie added as she showed me the large online network and outreach efforts Girl Up boasts. “Our job is to make sure girls have the resources they need and that we are supporting them. The website provides information on how to start your own club and how to become a teen advisor, on advocacy, fundraising tips and instructions. It also includes chat boxes for inquiries and a page to search local Girl Up clubs near you.
“Humanitarian aid can be pseudo-imperialist at times,” Angie said as she explained how much she values the UNF and Girl Up’s efforts in making all projects and change collaborative. “[Our biggest accomplishment over the past eight years has been making girls feel welcome, that their voices are heard, that they have a part in making change… Cultivating that sense of total inclusion and girl power is amazing.”
Girl Up club is also active at UW-Madison.
“Change doesn’t happen in a day, you have to keep working… You have to keep fighting everyday if you want anything to happen.” Angie said as she took a deep breath and smiled. “Oh also, girls are awesome. Girls rock, we’re going to change the world!”
This piece is a part of Feminism in Focus, a series exploring the history, contemporary implications and happenings of feminism.