The Girls' Network is already a successful, nationwide, women-to-girl, in-person mentoring programme,. But how do we maintain relationships and progress when the girls live in rural areas, far from their mentors in the city? Charly Young, founder of The Girls' Network, explains how the Catalyst Grant is helping pilot a new kind of hybrid programme.
One of the things I love about living in a big city, like London, is how everything is on my doorstep. If I realise I’ve run out of milk at midnight, suddenly decide I want to listen to some live jazz, or see the latest blockbuster film, there’s usually somewhere that will satisfy my craving. When it comes to more serious life opportunities, I live in a thriving hub of commerce and opportunity, with plenty of jobs in a wide variety of fields, great networks, and many a chance for personal development, inspiration and education.
But travel ten, fifteen, twenty miles out of the city – any city – and suddenly accessibility to the same opportunities becomes a real barrier. So, for those without the means to get around the challenges that geographical isolation brings… what then?
At The Girls’ Network we work with 14-19 year old girls from some of the least advantaged communities across the country. Girls who have ambitions and passions, but who often don’t have the opportunities to realise them.
We connect them to a network of female role models, and match them with their own female mentor. This helps them to practically build skills and confidence, and to open them up to new opportunities – so that they can be ambitious for their futures.
Over the last five years, however, we have become increasingly aware of the additional challenge that geographical remoteness can bring, both in terms of visibility of opportunities, and the practicalities of access to our own network. How do we connect the girls with the opportunities that – for the most part - are concentrated in the bigger towns and cities? Technology seemed the obvious answer. Yet we also believe in the value of meeting someone in person, helping to build a trusting relationship in a way that connecting purely over the internet cannot. It helps us to learn how we engage emotionally with our immediate surroundings, read someone’s body language, the importance of eye-contact, that handshake. So, how do we keep scaling our network using technology, while maintaining that fundamental in-person contact that we founded ourselves on?
This is what the RSA Catalyst funding is helping us to test: an 18-month initial pilot, testing our hypothesis of a hybrid mentoring programme, and the impact that could have.
We are at the early stages of the pilot at the moment, matching 30 girls from remote communities on the coast with mentors living in and around London. Over the year, we will share what we learn, and are hopeful that by harnessing the connectivity that technology allows, we can grow the impact of The Girls’ Network across the more remote and isolated areas of England.
Josie* believed she would follow in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother: leaving school without a job and with no prospect of further or higher education. Josie is an intelligent girl, but none of her friends or family had been to university and very few women she knows have a job. Without seeing opportunities in the small town she grew up in, the idea of moving miles to the city was too big an unknown to even consider. She spoke about careers like law and journalism that, ‘in another life’ she might have pursued. But how could ‘a girl like her’ ever get there?
Stories like this gives us even more reason to try and ensure that girls like Josie do not write themselves out of the amazing futures that could lie ahead of them, simply because of where they come from, or their gender.
Whatever the answer, we are keen to pilot a mentoring programme that incorporates the in-person meetings that we believe establish trust and connection, with technology to enable more regular mentoring, and support for girls further with both mentors and opportunities.
We are hopeful that this will move us one step closer to a world where no girl is held back by her gender, or where she comes from.
*Real name withheld.
If you would like to keep up with our progress, or share some ideas, or check out mentoring yourself, get in touch through our socials:
@thegirlsnetwork - instagram
@TheGirlsNet - twitter
You can read about past Catalyst projects, where our Fellows share their learning and how they used the funds.
If you are keen to learn more about the Catalyst Grant, please do not hesitate to get in contact with the Engagement Manager, Amy Butterworth, at Amy.Butterworth@rsa.org.uk. You can also find the other ways the RSA supports Fellow-led projects on the Project Support page.
Which 21st century women will you nominate to become a Fellow? Get in touch with our Fellowship Development team to help us recruit more women.