What Girls Driving for a Difference taught me about empowerment, leadership, and social change and my daughter

Two weeks ago at The Skillery with the support of our good friends from stoke.d, I witnessed something inspiring. Young women engaged in insightful discussion on topics like bullying, depression, and suicide. Amazingly scary. I don’t know about you, but when I was in middle school I was more worried about sports and the opposite sex. How were these insights brought up you ask? With the help of Girls Driving for a Difference.

Girls Driving for a Difference (GDD) is made up of four Stanford University undergraduate women – Katie, Jenna, Rachel and Natalya – who have spent their summer traveling around the country in an RV providing workshops about empowerment and leadership to middle school young women. Using design thinking techniques such as reframing problems into opportunities, brainstorming interests areas, and defining their leadership voice, Katie, Jenna, and Rachel created a safe place where these young women were mentored by women, demonstrated how to be empathetic, and encouraged collaboration with their peers to visualize what social change might be in their lives. This workshop has left such an impression on me that I haven’t stopped talking about it since, and it got me thinking – how might my wife and I  use design thinking to foster social change with our own daughter?


My 3 and a half year old daughter tells my wife and me every day that she wants to be “the boss of Tennessee.” And why not? The boss gets to decide when and what to eat, when and where to sleep, when and where to be loud, etc. When your daughter grows up, she needs to not only believe that she can be anyone she wants to be but that she can do anything she wants to do. Provide opportunities that inspire and challenge her, and encourage her to fail fast so that she can succeed sooner. We should allow her to seek these opportunities with a passion and a purpose – keeping in mind that she needs the space to play and enjoy childhood. She should be allowed to do things that don’t always make sense so that she can connect the experiences into something greater later.


Truthfully, I have never given much thought to gender equality and leadership. There have always been instances where people have been smarter, faster, or stronger than me and often those people are women. Scarlett Sieber wrote a great piece about men mentoring future women leaders (link) and I think this should be translated to fathers as well. We need to teach our daughters about leadership, allow them to find their leadership style, and cultivate it so that they can collaborate with their peers. We should provide experiences so that our daughters can test them out and find what works and what doesn’t, allowing each the space to develop into a leader of tomorrow.

Social Change

The greatest gift you can give is yourself to the world and your daughter has an opportunity to be part of something that is bigger than you and me. Show her that her interests in photography, writing, art, dance, or sports can bring about social change. There will always be more challenges in the world and many more bad things than we will help our children to understand but what I saw in these young women is that they are already insightful to the hurt and pain in the world. It’s time to drive for a future where our world is better tomorrow than it is today. Girls Driving for a Difference showed these girls that social change might address world events but it can just as easily happen next door. What’s the small change she might make in the next hour, in the next day, or in the next week to bring about social change?

There are times when you get a glimpse of a future that’s greater than your own – I witnessed that two weeks ago with Girls Driving for a Difference.  Daughters light up our lives and we have one of life’s greatest gifts – to live our own lives while at the same time observing and engaging in our daughter’s excitement, disappointments, successes, and failures. Soon she will become a young woman who will change the world. I thoroughly believe in our her. And I believe in design thinking as a methodology to empower, lead, and bring about change. My name is Tony, and in bringing together my strengths of design & radical collaboration, I’m driving for a future where young women will become the boss of Tennessee.


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