Linda Calhoun: Founder & Executive Producer, Career Girls

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Bio: Linda Calhoun is Founder and Executive Producer of Careergirls.org, a free, noncommercial, online platform that showcases video clips of diverse women role models sharing career and educational advice to inspire young girls to expand their horizons, improve their academic performance, and dream big about their futures.

The idea for Career Girls was born after Linda started working as a database consultant for international development projects for USAID and the World Bank. She has several years experience leading teams in the design and requirements of databases to support GIS for public agencies in Kansas, Connecticut and the Kyrgyz Republic. She found this work to be rewarding on many levels and wanted girls coming up behind her to know about exciting careers in tech and beyond.

 In 1994, she had the honor of being a member of the United Nations Observer Mission in South Africa (UNOMSA) as an election monitor in the KwaZulu Natal Province. In addition to earning her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communication at Boston University, she also received a certificate in International Marketing from the American University of Paris.

She is also the President, Friends of the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women, Chair of the Commonwealth Club of California’s International Relations Member Led Forum, World Affairs Trustee and Board Member for Alliance for Girls. She and her husband Ed live in San Francisco are co-founders of EL Films production company and established, independent artists.

How did you get into the industry?

I understood the impact of stories from listening to my grandmother as a little girl. She would put me on her knee and tell me how she went from living in extreme poverty in rural Virginia to having full agency over her life. 

My grandmother was able to change the trajectory of her life. That helped me believe I could do it too. Once I got to a point where I was doing work that was meaningful and rewarding, I knew I had to pay it forward. I remember the exact moment I had that realization. I was a first-generation college student. My parents were the first in their family to graduate from high school, and my grandparents never went beyond the eighth grade. So after graduating from college, there I was, helping to implement market reforms in the former Soviet Republic of Kyrgyzstan with no one in my family to help me navigate what was an exciting, but challenging position. When I looked around the office, I saw very few women and no one else of color. It was obvious that my level of education and passion for the work are what got me into the room. If I could find my way into that room, any girl, from anywhere, could get there too. 

It wasn’t until 10-15 years after college that I began to find my own way career-wise. Once I got to that point, I became determined to make sure it wouldn’t take any other girl that long to close the imagination gap of what is possible for her to achieve. Prior to my international development work, I had produced two cable access television shows and a documentary about the first democratic elections in South Africa. With that experience under my belt, I just started cold calling and reaching out to successful women and asked if they’d be willing to share how they did it. And thus, Career Girls was born.

Any emerging industry trends?

As for Career Girls’ target audience of girls ages 10-13, I see more young girls who are empowered to take action. They want to be activists who make the world a better place. They also want to take control of their own futures. They have issues they care about and are leading the way to address them, whether adults catch up with them or not.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business? (EXAMPLE: Tell us about what originally inspired the business concept, and tell us what the desired future of the business is) 

Girls need role models. For us, putting videos of women role models online was a natural first step for addressing this need. By building an online platform, we amplify the voices of women who are often already mentoring on a one-on-one basis. We scale their impact and reach by connecting them with a global audience.

The Career Girls website (Careergirls.org) now offers more than 11,000 short clips that feature over 600 diverse, accomplished women role models from around the world sharing their work and life experiences to inspire young girls. Our career quiz gives girls an easy way to start exploring. We also offer "Empowerment Lesson" videos where our role models address the soft skills needed to be successful, like leadership, integrity, teamwork and choosing the right friends. 

While we will always focus on maintaining a robust online presence, Career Girls is founded on the dream that every girl around the world, regardless of her background or resources, has access to diverse and accomplished women who inspire them to reach for the stars. So that means we also offer ways to serve nearly half of the global population that is offline. One way we do this is through our Career Girls Mobile Learning Center (MLC). In partnership with World Possible, we utilize a portable plug-and-play server called a RACHEL (Remote Area Community Hotspot for Education and Learning) to make our website content available over any local (offline) wireless connection. Our content is also available to offline audiences through a similar program at Kolibri by Learning Equality.

We are also actively expanding our partnerships with local NGOs, schools, and other groups with an established presence in areas we want to serve. We recently completed a very successful pilot for the Career Girls Mobile Learning Center in partnership with the NGO Starlight Africa. After filming 16 African women role models in Kigali, we worked with Starlight Africa for six months to create a customized, culturally-sensitive career discovery curriculum for 100 girls in Rwanda.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

As for the future, we will continue to add role model interviews from around the world to reach and empower more girls. Right now, we're developing the first-ever, Career Girls app. Through the app, girls will be able to watch role model videos and safely record, track, and store their career exploration journey. 

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

Ideally, girls who visit Careergirls.org should spend around 20 minutes exploring different careers and watching and listening to the various women talk about their career paths and how to prepare for those careers. The site also provides ready-to-use lesson plans, career quizzes, and interactive activities that teachers and other adults can use to help reinforce the videos' message.

Career advice to those in your industry?

Assemble your own personal Board of Directors. I'm continually learning from my family, friends, the amazing women we interview, and the hundreds of girls we meet. It's important to surround yourself with people from different backgrounds and perspectives who can help you learn, grow, and navigate life's ups and downs. 

What makes me the best version of myself?

Loyalty and clarity of vision. I don't let "the crowd," peers or loved ones influence me to do anything that's not true to my values and moral code. I've goofed up plenty of times in life, but I always follow my heart or what I feel is right and true at the time. That's what's important to me.

What are my aspirations?

Personally, I want to stay healthy and fit. I've been active all my life and want to keep it moving for years to come. On the business level, my goal is to do everything I possibly can to make sure Career Girls becomes so big and self-sustaining that no one will even remember who the founder is.

My Favorite People/Role Models?

My grandmothers, mother, and godmother are my favorite people, and some of the strongest women I know. I like to think I get my tenacity and empathy for others from them. Business-wise, Leslie Uggams, Melba Moore, Suzanne de Passe and of course, Oprah, are some of the people I look up to.

A Day in My Life:

What are you doing at:

    1. 6:00 AM – Reading news on my phone and drinking coffee

    2. 10:00 AM – On the phone or on my way to a meeting

    3. 12:00 PM – Favorite Lunch spot/meal? A cool gluten free, no refined sugar place called Little Gem.

    4. 7:00 PM – At an event or home on the sofa with my hubby catching up on Colbert or the Daily show

    5. 11:00 PM – Back on my phone or just coming in from an event

My Pic of the Day: Seeing all of the girls from our program in Rwanda smiling with their Career Girls certificates was literally a dream come true.

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