Spotlight on Avni Singh: Whatever It Takes
About the Whatever It Takes Program:
Meet Anika from San Diego, Ether from St. Louis, Winter Green from NYC, and Avni from Austin - four young women with unique backgrounds and entrepreneurial ideas with one thing in common: they are members of the incredible Whatever It Takes program. Founded by Sarah Hernholm, the program hinges on the belief that young people can do more and have a greater sense of self-efficacy if they learn how to be social entrepreneurs. WIT, the only 6 unit college credit social entrepreneur and leadership program for high school teens in the country, helps teens design and launch, manage and measure, a social enterprise. Based in San Diego, California, with locations in New York City, Austin, and St. Louis, WIT also hosts teen only hackathons (Smart City Saturday) and puts the power into the teens’ hands with the 2018 launch of WIT Crew - a teen led “club” providing teens the platform and tools to make a social impact in their community, while being connected to the resources and mentorship of the WIT network.
Meet Avni Singh - an entrepreneur (and Chapstick connoisseur!) who is on a mission to shift the normalcy of sexual harassment via text and online chat.
Tell us about yourself.
I am a high school junior, an entrepreneur, a dancer, a filmmaker, and a Chapstick connoisseur. People may see my gender/age/ethnicity as a hindrance, but I see it as an asset. My business, Girl Alliance, reflects this value, as we strive to help teen girls assert themselves in the dating world. I’ve also brought my entrepreneurial spirit to my 3-hour classical Indian dance graduation recital (Arangetram), which happened in September. I created films, which played on a screen behind me, that translated the meaning of my dances into plain English for my audience. I also created a Kahoot game quizzing the audience about Bharatnatyam dance terms, which everyone loved! Being a teen girl allowed me to empathize with my audience and create an enjoyable event for all. On the lighter side, I enjoy making music videos with my cousins, eating tacos, and kayaking— all while wearing my favorite Chapstick.
Who or what inspired your interest in entrepreneurship?
Picture a pajama-clad eleven year-old Indian girl sitting on her bedroom floor, heart pounding, eyes twitching, and palms sweating. She pushes the last 5mm lapis bead through the wire, crimps the last end, connects the last jump ring, and marvels at her creations: 15 pairs of dazzling earrings. Excitement bubbles in her and she calls loudly for her parents and little sister to come see her work. This was my first experience with entrepreneurship. I had just fulfilled the first order of my Etsy store, Bollywood Beads. My aunt was truly my inspiration. Not only was she fashion forward, but I was incredibly honored when she placed an order for 15 pairs of earrings to share with her fancy doctor friends at her holiday luncheon. While the process did include some tears when I felt overwhelmed, and my aunt ended up being my first and last customer due to the aforementioned overwhelmingness, I will never forget that my aunt believed in my ability to create a valuable product even though I was still a child.
Thirty years ago, if a guy wanted to get a girl’s attention he’d have to flirt with her in class, ask for her number, call her a few times, and then maybe get a date. Today, initiating a Snapchat streak and texting “send nudes?” to five different girls in the same night is a more common way to show romantic interest. From what my friends and I have observed, this new, demeaning culture of sending nudes has become the foundation of most high school relationships. In fact, a study done in 2012 found that 68.4% of high school girls reported having been asked to send a sext (nude picture). Girl Alliance is a growing cultural movement combating online sexual harassment among teens. Our vision is a community where girls navigate this new and potentially unhealthy landscape of sexting with empowering tools that preserve their dignity and their coolness. To bring that vision into reality, we will sell bracelets and distribute stickers that bring awareness to this issue and provide an online platform for girls to share and receive advice and report “send nudes?” requests to their school counselor.
What problem does your business solve?
There are five main problems the patent pending Girl Alliance app/website/cultural movement is trying to solve:
1. Problem: Recent Harvey Weinstein reports underscore how prevalent sexual abuse is in our society and how hard it is for women to speak out because of the CULTURAL TABOO around it. I believe that this culture begins in high school with boys asking girls for nudes, and girls feeling pressured to comply. It’s time for girls to rewrite the script. Girl Alliance Solution: Produce, market, and sell Girl Alliance branded bracelets and stickers that RAISE AWARENESS TO SEXUAL HARASSMENT that happens among teens particularly through nude requests on social media. Girl Alliance aims to align with COOL BRANDS popular among teens, such as the Live A Great Story campaign.
2. Problem: Girls simply DO NOT KNOW WHAT TO SAY OR DO when a boy asks her for a naked picture of herself over Snapchat or other messaging apps. Often, the request for a nude occurs during this awkward middle stage where a girl does not want to break off a budding romance and appear prudish by refusing the nude request, but she also may be aware of the consequences of putting an image like that out there. Girl Alliance Solution: My app would PROVIDE INFORMATION through 1) tips for girls stuck in this situation from adult professionals, 2) an online community for girls to share their own advice, 3) funny responses that girls can send to boys in response to the “send nudes?” question, and 4) links to organizations such as LoveIsRespect.org.
3. Problem: From I’ve seen, there is zero updated, relevant outreach in middle and high schools to teach about sexual harassment, especially online sexual harassment. Most SCHOOLS DESPERATELY LACK a designated teacher or counselor that can help a girl when a boy asks for a nude. Girl Alliance Solution: Our long term goal is to sell school districts SUBSCRIPTIONS FOR CUSTOMIZED CONTENT such as direct links to sexual harassment officer/guidance counselors in their school district available on our website.
4. Problem: BOYS need to be an equal part of the solution and be part of the conversation of online sexual harassment. Girl Alliance Solution: This is an initiative I am still working on, but for starters we would want boys to WEAR GIRL ALLIANCE BRACELETS AND DISPLAY GIRL ALLIANCE STICKERS on their water bottles, phones, etc. 5. Problem: Girls do not know if a boy requesting her nudes is also requesting nudes from OTHER GIRLS. A girl may feel special because a boy is asking her for a nude, but she also does not know if she is just one out of several other girls he has made similar requests to. Girl Alliance Solution: The Girl Alliance app will allow GIRLS TO SUBMIT EVIDENCE and social media usernames of boys who are requesting their nudes and view community created histories. (Note: This may be problematic, and I am working on less punitive approaches such as an adapted version of Callisto, an information escrow service some colleges use to report sexual harassers.)
How do you see the long-term impact of your business?
Girl Alliance will inspire a cultural shift away from “send nudes?” as a form of flirting and instead encourage the empowerment and collaboration of women in the teen dating scene. We are part of a larger mission to end the stigma around sexual harassment, one that has gained significant media attention lately with campaigns such as the #MeToo movement and the Callisto Project. As a teen, I’ve seen first hand that sexual harassment does not just begin in college, and I believe high school can act as a breeding ground for future sexual harassers and victims because their behavior goes unchecked.
I recently noticed a new hashtag, gaining attention by the media: #MeTooK12. This hashtag encourages young sexual harassment victims to speak out. While efforts like this are wonderful, we need teens themselves driving social change and leading this movement. The language and the method must come from the kids, which is why I believe Girl Alliance is so powerful.
I am creating a business which inspires young women to make smart, informed decisions, inspires young men to be respectful, aware, and #dontbeharvey, and inspires all teens to band together and recognize their own power.
I am very excited by my progress so far, including:
-Obtained patent pending technology that the app will be based on
-Vote for a logo contest: https://goo.gl/forms/qfzFh3B4sr8fZGlj1
-Stickers to be distributed at 3 pilot schools in February (will be distributed anonymously to create buzz, a great tip from one of my mentors, Zach Horvath, the founder of Live a Great Story). You can see the sticker design at: https://tinyurl.com/girlalliancesticker. The label will explain the mission of Girl Alliance and decipher DBH, which means “Don’t be Harvey (Weinstein).”
-Bracelet prototyping and ordering a test batch of charms with the Girl Alliance logo
-Sharing the stage with WIT founder and 2 other teen entrepreneurs at SXSWedu 2018
-Reached out to 10 celebrities/organizations in hopes that they might collaborate/promote our work
-Made a workplan sketching out the milestones for the app and online community
-Purchased domain name www.girl-alliance.com
-Hopefully becoming a part of Next Gen!