Girls With Impact CEO Jennifer Openshaw is a self-made woman with a compelling story of success.
Raised by a divorced mother of three, she took a job as a motel maid as a teen and later earned a scholarship to college. Today she is a nationally known financial expert who has appeared everywhere from Dr. Phil to Oprah, and from CNN to CBS. She authored “The Millionaire Zone,” and also started Women’s Financial Network, the first online financial firm created for women.
Openshaw is passionate about Girls with Impact, a live, online entrepreneurship program for teen girls that offers a mini-MBA program where participants turn a passion or hobby into a prototype and business plan. She delights in the role the non profit plays in girls’ lives, enabling them to create a business venture and develop confidence in their leadership abilities.
Interviewed by phone, Openshaw explained that the goal of Girls With Impact is to create a pipeline of young women to enter the business world.
“To truly change the trajectory of women in the workplace, we need to start with this generation: teen girls,” she said.
Girls With Impact has been at hit at Greenwich High School, and guidance dept director Judith Nedell is a board member.
When she was a 16-year-old rising senior, Jody Bell was one of the first girls to get involved with Girls With Impact. Her project was a website ICODhelp.org, which stands for “In Case of Deportation,” as a resource for youth in Connecticut and New York.
Openshaw said the curriculum for the online program was designed with the help of Harvard Business School experts, and is unique as the nation’s only live, online mini-MBA. Girls meet live, online for their kick-off orientation …..
“We offer the program year round,” Openshaw explained. “We run like a college – on a quarterly basis. But the summer program is right around the corner, and parents are thinking about it now for their daughters.”
She said the genesis for the program came four years ago when she attended the World Economic Forum at Davos.
“People were talking about women and innovation,” she recalled. “I’ve been in the corporate world, and I thought, ‘That’s nice, but it’s going to be a long haul.’ It would be better off to target the next generation and make them the leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs.”
“If we don’t, we won’t build our economy – including right here in Fairfield. Girls will continue to play second fiddle and therefore their earnings will suffer,” she said. “There is no question if you know how to deliver a good, hands-on educational program, you can move the needle. In three weeks these girls say they feel more powerful and capable.”
“There is lots of stemming and coding space out there,” she said. “That’s a great skill, but if you want girls to be leaders, they need more than that.”
Openshaw believes every girl should go through the program, whether she is interested in math, music or medicine.
“You need a fundamental business background before you step out of high school or college – no matter if you plan to become a doctor or a teacher,” she said.
“COVID-19 is helping to prove is that there is a role for digital education done well.”
– Jennifer Openshaw, CEO, Girls With Impact
And, she said, taking a project through to completion as part of the mini-MBA program sets girls apart in their college applications.
“What colleges and employers are looking for today is, ‘Show me what you’ve done.’ Something you’ve done independently to convince me you can think and lead on your own,” Openshaw continued. “The girls in the program are very diverse and we’ve had girls from every socio0economic background.”
Openshaw described one participant a lower income Latina. “She said, ‘I’m excited because I’m starting from something I want to build.’ When you take them out of a parent or teacher environment, and they get to start from their own passions and interests, they learn by doing. You can’t build one’s confidence or work skills by just talking. In executing their own project, their confidence grows and their view of themselves changes.”
She said there are some students are not A students. “They may get Cs and Ds, but they are not dumb students. Many are smart kids who are disengaged.”
Right here in Greenwich, Melissa Woo, a standout student with many accolades under her belt, participated in the program. She combined her passion for STEM-related subjects, including science research and computer science, with her interest in entrepreneurship to create STEM For All, a non profit that will offer coding classes at local grade schools, libraries, and places like the Boys & Girls Club.
“Week after week, I gained more knowledge that would be key as I began prototyping, pitching, and implementing my nonprofit around my community,” Melissa wrote in an opinion piece for GFP. “And I gained confidence in public speaking as I practiced my elevator pitch in front of my mentor and other peers in my class.”
Another Greenwich High School student who participated in the program, Cathy Senyonjo, created a venture called Plait Please, a hair braiding device.
Openshaw said today girls across the country are building their ventures around COVID-19 problems.
Girls graduate from the program with a business plan, a prototype of their venture, and a pitch presentation. They receive a certificate of completion upon graduation and add it to their resume.
“Imagine, the leg up that young girl will have, going through our academy having an actual business plan around COVID-19, and putting that on their college application,” she said.
Girls With Impact operated online before the pandemic confined students to their homes and distance learning became the new normal.
“We’ve been doing it for four years, and amid COVID-19, nothing has changed for us. We’re filling a huge gap for schools and working parents by providing an enrichment education from home,” she said.
Openshaw said Girls With Impact has grown quickly and has the ability to accommodate an even larger number of girls. In the last eight weeks 700 girls, mostly from New England, but across the country, have onboarded.
Supporters include the Fairfield County Community Foundation, XPO Logistics, Wells Fargo, Eversource Energy, B, and Charles Schwab, but Openshaw said ideally more corporate leaders will get behind the effort.
“We want to be serving 10,000 girls,” she said.
“We are doing what nobody is doing. We are moving the needle,” Openshaw said. “We need the backing of more corporate leaders and philanthropists to scale even more. It’s tax deductable.”