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What does it mean to lead like a girl?

A sign that says "Lead like a girl" sticks out from a bouquet of flowers

On Saturday, May 18, 2019, the Women’s Initiative for Self Empowerment (WISE) held its annual GGAL Luncheon at the Science Museum of Minnesota. This year’s theme was LEAD LIKE A GIRL, meant to empower our GGAL and WeLEAD participants to embrace their identity and utilize their unique potential to reach their dreams!

And, wow, did our women and girls bring it.

Here are some highlights from the 2019 GGAL Luncheon:

Being intentional

“Sometimes we take having a choice for granted and we feel like we don’t have a choice and, in some cases, we don’t but when we do I certainly want us to be more intentional in what choice we choose and how that reflects our own individual being.”

The Luncheon dived right into the heart of immigrant and refugee women’s issues with a keynote speech from Ms. Kabo Yang. Ms. Kabo Yang, the Executive Director of the Minnesota Women’s Consortium and a former refugee, was invited to the Luncheon as one of two keynote speakers.

In her speech Kabo emphasized how growing up a Hmong daughter limited her choices. Hmong daughters were expected to be a housewife and bear children and in many cases, women succumb to these expectations thinking they have no other choice. Understanding this from a young age, Kabo became more aware about what opportunities were available to her and intentional about her choices.

She encouraged the women and girls in the room to “lead like a girl” by being more intentional about their choices and who they strive to be.

Lead with your story

“What do you want to know about a girl who lost her childhood . . . just so she could lead her family? What do you tell a girl who lost her language because she was told she needed to improve her English?”

Kabo was followed by a speech from WISE’s very own WeLEAD participant, Rupa Adhikari, an English and Education major at Hamline University, who talked about her struggle with identity in the US and being a leader to her family at a young age.

Rupa Adhikari makes a speech as the 2019 GGAL Luncheon

At the age of eight, Rupa entered the American school system. She attempted to quickly learn how to navigate it in order to guide her younger sisters. Even with this effort, years later she was told she could not do well in school because she was still learning English. The attempt to catch up with “being American” oftentimes results in the loss of personal culture and language. Even though Rupa is unable to speak her native tongue, she has not forgotten her her roots and her early childhood memories in her native country of Nepal.

Rupa took the doubt placed on her and transformed it into her strength. She thanked the WISE program coordinators, mentors, advisors, and fellow GGAL and WeLEAD sisters for their support and encouraged others to lead with their stories as well.

Girls like us

“We came [to the US] with nothing but hopes of opportunities to pursue higher education, a better career, and more importantly, for our identity -- identity that my parents have been looking for for over two decades.

Rita Rai is also another former GGAL and current WeLEAD participant who spoke at the GGAL Luncheon. She shared her family’s story of their arrival as refugees in Minnesota and the isolation and feelings of depression that follow due to the cultural, social, and economic barriers.

Rita Rai makes a speech at the 2019 GGAL Luncheon

Rita struggled with language barrier the most and oftentimes felt isolated at school because she couldn’t communicate with anyone. Rita stated, “My self-esteem became so low that I stopped seeing the purpose in me to pursue higher education and the career I had always wanted.”

Things turned around when Rita was introduced to the GGAL program and its purpose. She felt empowered by the program which motivated her to consider higher education once again. “This was when I began to lead like a girl,” stated Rita. Going to college taught her independence and gave her the confidence to be a better role model for girls like her.

Rita is now pursuing a BA in Social Work with hopes to continue into graduate school to be a mental health practitioner.

Poem by Carol G.

“I am ashamed to talk to her. Maybe she will ignore me and that will embarrass me. Or maybe she will open her feelings to me. I don’t really care. I’m gonna take risks. I’m gonna talk to her.”

GGAL participant, Carol G., shared a poem she wrote in class about providing love and support to friends who are struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. Her strength and courage to share her vulnerability was beautiful and powerful.

Authentic to yourself

“What I believe leading in your own life is about is making decisions that resonate with your heart and your purpose and being OK with the journey not being a straight line.”

Ms. Eliana Reyes, a model, actor, producer, and entrepreneur, was also invited as the afternoon keynote speaker where she talks about being true to oneself and not adhering to societal limitations. As a child and as an adult, Eliana picked up many talents and followed many different paths to find the most authentic one for herself.

Eliana Reyes makes her key note speech at the 2019 GGAL Luncheon

She talks about how she followed her passions and interests as well as how she let them go. Eliana states that sometimes things don’t go as planned “and that’s a part of leading as well. . . [it is] recognizing that maybe this is what you wanted but is it going to work for you and for the life that you want to live? Sometimes what we want doesn’t really resonate with who we are or what our purpose is.”

In their journey of self-discovery, Eilana encourages others to do three things: 1) find someone who inspires and motivates you, 2) be authentically yourself, and 3) listen to your intuition.


Other notable performances include a traditional flute performance by Ms. Hillary Lor, a traditional Karenni dance by the Karreni Saint Paul Dancers, and the GGAL fashion show which showcased the traditional dress of the Oromo, Anuak, Burmese, and Hmong.

Thank you to the WISE staff and board, GGAL and WeLEAD participants, speakers and performers, families, and community members for attending and making this event a great success!

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