Anna Blue: Co-Executive Director, Girl Up

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Bio:

Anna is the Co-Executive Director of Girl Up, a groundbreaking organization that mobilizes, trains and empowers influential teen girl leaders through community organizing, advocacy and global networking. Anna has over a decade of experience managing teams and implementing education and activism-based programs, becoming an innovative leader in program and campaign development, fundraising and communications.  At Girl Up, Anna has worked to stabilize fundraising and strategically engage corporate partners and individual donors, helping to move Girl Up from a start-up campaign to a sustainable global organization that is creating tangible change for girls.  Anna facilitated the creation of Girl Up’s influential advisory board and leads collaboration and engagement efforts to ensure the board’s success.  She previously worked at the Washington Jesuit Academy (WJA), a nonprofit scholarship-based middle school for some of Washington, DC’s most underserved boys, where she led a multi-million-dollar capital campaign, which increased endowment and supported the construction of new athletic facilities.  In addition to her fundraising efforts, Anna created and implemented the school’s first strategic plan for communications, which included a full rebrand of messaging, materials and website, as well as significantly increased media coverage for WJA.  Before her move to education, Anna spent the first half of her career working in multiple sectors of policy and advocacy – trade association, nonprofit, corporate, political campaigns and in the U.S. Senate.  In 2008 she found her love and passion for youth empowerment while working as a community organizer focused on increasing youth voting in three swing-states during the presidential election.  Anna proudly serves on the board of directors for Girls Health Ed and Teen FemiList, both committed to changing the lives of girls around the world.

What do I do best?

I feel like the fact that I’m making it – that Girl Up and my family are in a good place, and as balanced as possible, and we’re all growing and moving forward is where my success lies right now. I feel like that’s what I’m doing best.

What makes me the best version of myself?

Accountability, authenticity, and the way in which those two qualities merge. At my first job out of college, we had this set of core values that all employees were expected to live by and seek out in others, and for me, that the concept of accountability really stuck. To become the best versions of ourselves, we must own who we are – our strengths, our successes, our challenges, our mistakes; all of it. We’re only succeeding if we’re growing, and we can’t grow without being accountable for all parts of ourselves.

Authenticity goes hand-in-hand with accountability. I don’t hide my flaws. For example, I don’t pretend to be organized if I’m not. That understanding helps me find balance and seek help where I need it. I own my flaws as much as my strengths and that feeds into everything I am now and everything I’m building towards, both personally and professionally.

What are my aspirations?

Professionally, I aspire to not only see Girl Up through to the potential and success we’re on track to reach, but also disrupt the girl space. At the core of who we are as an organization, we are by girls, for girls. We don’t believe that only adults should be the driving force behind achieving gender equality; we believe in the power of the youth movement. We react and respond to the things that interest our girl activists as they come into their own as a generation, which is a fairly unique approach. We don’t just tell girls how to lead or what type of leaders they should become; we listen to them, meet them where they are, and build leadership programs that we know they want to engage in, in order to create the change they want to see.

Personally, when I reflect on parenthood and the age old “am I doing this right?” question, I feel like I have a unique opportunity. There is a 12 and 16 year age gap between my oldest son and my two daughters. My son is in college, while my youngest daughter starts preschool this fall. As parents, we all look back on the things we would do differently, and  now, I have an opportunity to take those lessons I learned from raising my son and apply them to how I raise my daughters. I aspire to do my best as a mom, in whatever form that looks like day to day. And having a head start with my oldest, really helps. They are completely different people – all three of them – so while there’s always the element of learning as I go, I’ve also been given the gift of confidence. There’s no such thing as perfect parenting; all we can do is our best as parents, and now I have the unique perspective of knowing that generally it’s all going to be ok – they’re all going to be ok. And that’s a great place to be.

My Biggest Success?

My son. He was born winter break of my junior year of college, and it was just the two of us for more than a decade. There wasn’t Google-for-everything-under-the-sun when he was born, so I had to rely on my gut, the love I had for him, and my knowledge of the person I wanted him to become. (I’m actually really grateful Google didn’t exist 20 years ago because it makes the parenting process terrifying to an extent.) But, he changed who I was at a really critical time in my life. Becoming a single mom at 20 changed the course of everything, from my career path to how I approached relationships, to how I looked at the world and saw my responsibilities in it. It was a gift for me. Now, he’s one of the greatest people I know – and I consider that one of my greatest successes.

My Most Challenging Moment?

Often our biggest challenges become our greatest successes, right? So, I would have to give a similar answer to this question as I did to the last. I became a parent as a college student, knowing that I would be doing it on my own. My family and friends understandably had a lot of concerns about how I was going to make it work, and if the two of us be ok. But you know what? We were. There were challenges and hardships for sure, but the lessons are so much greater. You don’t realize what you can do until you do it, and that experience has taught me what I’m capable of.

My Motto?

“When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” –Maya Angelou

The first time I heard that phrase, it served as a huge “aha!” moment that came to define how I’ve handled so many relationships both positive and unhealthy with partners, friends, and family members. I’ve always been a person of a million chances and believed that people can become who I think they are as opposed to who they show up to be.  Hearing that phrase gave me permission to start seeing people for who they are.  That doesn’t mean people don’t get to make mistakes, but I think we recognize people pretty early on for who they show up to be. It’s then up to us to determine how we acknowledge that and decide how it fits into our lives. I continue to view the world through that lens as I meet people.

My Favorite People/Role Models?

Professionally, I can’t point to any one person. In the work I do, I feel extremely lucky to be surrounded by so many incredible girl and women role models. I see our girl activists around the world doing these phenomenal things, which inspires me to hustle harder. These girls also make me feel like the world will be okay for my daughters. We also have an incredible advisory board at Girl Up that  consists of so many amazing women who I look up to and learn from on a daily basis.

I consider myself fortunate in the same ways personally – I have so many women in my life that inspire me to be the best version of myself. My incredible mom who was the first person to show me that being a single mother is more of a gift than a challenge; my best friend who knows my insides and loves and champions me no matter how I stumble; my daughters who emanate sheer joy and teach me to live in the moment; my business partner who helps me to feel balanced. I am surrounded by women and girls on all sides who make me a greater human, and I am so grateful for that each and every day.

My Favorite Places/Destinations?

My mom is from the UK, born and raised in London. Even though I was born in Canada and grew up in the US, something about London feels like home to me. I don’t know if that feeling stems from the opportunities I have to connect with my mom’s family when I travel there, or from hearing about her childhood, but I just experience this interesting, innate connection. I’ve traveled to a lot of places that I really love, but there’s something special that happens when I land in the UK – it’s just, home.  

My Favorite Products/Objects?

Honestly, one of my absolute favorite things in the world is my slow-cooker. I bought it probably fifteen years ago. After it sat on my shelf for five years because I had no idea what I was doing, I finally bought a cookbook and put it to use. And it’s incredible – I do very little and then I get home and there’s dinner. My husband I both work in the social good sector and have stressful, crazy days. We love walking into our house at the end of the day, smelling the food and knowing that dinner is ready!

My Current Passions?

In the midst of working, traveling, marriage and parenting, I think the thing I currently find myself doing most is trying to find the ways that the world is still good. Right now, there’s so much negativity out there across the board you really have to focus to see the good.

While Girl Up is inspiring and positive, it’s also a huge uphill battle. Women and girls face sexual assault, gender-based violence, pay inequities, underrepresentation in the media, (and that’s just here in the U.S.) and on and on, and that constant awareness can become overwhelming. So, I actively seek out social posts and news stories that celebrate the good – from everyday things like people’s kids, birthdays and accomplishments, to the bigger impact of people giving back to their communities, standing up for one another, and just doing good. That’s become a little bit of an obsession because it keeps me going, and reminds me that, at the heart of it all, humanity is still good.

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