Sejal Hathi believes that every girl has potential. In fact, not only does every girl have potential as an individual, she says, but every girl also has the strength to change the world if given the opportunity. Hathi, 20, is both changing the world and offering girls everywhere that opportunity to do the same.
When she was just 15 years old, Hathi launched Girls Helping Girls (GHG), an international nonprofit that provides education, resources, and social-change training to girls and young women. GHG partners girls in the United States with girls all over the world, helps them address problems in their communities, and teaches them how to work together to develop solutions.
The organization’s mission is to create a global collaboration to cultivate and inspire the grassroots leaders of the future. “Girls who connect can be so much more powerful,” Hathi says. It is a plan of empowerment that Hathi developed when she herself was at a critical juncture in her life.
“The overriding propellant that galvanized me to create something of this magnitude was my own experience with eating disorders,” she says. “As a perfectionist, being maligned with this disease was unacceptable.” What helped her begin the healing process, she says, was the idea that there are other girls worldwide suffering from the same self-doubt—and if they just got together, they could overcome their problems. “There are hundreds of thousands of girls experiencing and struggling with manifestations of the same core problems—they can’t embrace humanity as gift because they don’t recognize their intrinsic value. I wanted to embolden and equip women everywhere [with the knowledge that] we share hardships and dreams.”
So, at age 15 Hathi connected a group of girls in the San Francisco Bay Area with a group of girls in India as a way for all of them to learn more about international issues. “Collectively facing the world would make it a much better place to live in,” she says. “That was the premise. Girls reaching out to one another to help fulfill their full potential and address pressing global challenges. The impetus emerged from my personal experience.”
Hathi worked hard to connect more and more girls around the globe by setting up meetings and introductions between schools and international organizations. She created partnerships and found grassroots leaders in all corners of the globe who wanted to help. Soon she had created a series of initiatives—and a staff—to help partner girls with mentors, provide important health and research resources, and create scholarships. Today, Hathi estimates that GHG has mobilized more than 30,000 girls worldwide. There are GHG sites in 12 U.S. cities and in 20 countries. And the organization has raised more than $100,000 for girls’ education and basic needs in destitute areas worldwide.
Hathi is currently a senior at Yale and is studying biology and global health. Within a year, she plans to hand the reins of the organization over to her colleagues so she can graduate and concentrate on girltank “the she-lab for social-change entrepreneurship,” which she cofounded with journalist Tara Roberts in 2010.
“I founded girltank for the swelling cohort of girls starting initiatives who could not access the growth capital or the mentorship needed to scale and commit to projects in the long term,” she says. “This is an organization to support girls with a proclivity for giving back to their community like those incubated at Girls Helping Girls. Girltank will help girls become high-impact entrepreneurs.”
Hathi, who plans to attend medical school in two years, has been lauded internationally for her galvanizing efforts to awaken the social entrepreneur in young women. She says her work is part of an extraordinary intellectual shift in young women who have been sparked to help others across the globe.
“I am a young woman changemaker: an ordinary girl with the moxie to believe that I can change the world, and then change it,” Hathi wrote in March. “A realist, but also a dreamer—a shamelessly big thinker. And I am not alone. I am just one of a swelling movement of courageous young women working worldwide to transform their lives and their communities.”
Kristin Kloberdanz is a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay area. She has written for Time, the Chicago Tribune and Forbes.com about everything from economic crises and political snafus to best summer beach reads.