Charly Young is CEO and Co-founder of The Girls’ Network – a charity that provides 14-19 year old girls from the least-advantaged communities across England with a female mentor and a network of professional female role models. As a secondary school teacher, she saw first-hand how girls and young women were limited by their gender and background, and knew she had to do something!
Charly has spoken at TedX, was listed in the Independent on Sunday’s Happy List, and won the Prix Clarins Stylist award in 2017, providing support and publicity for The Girls’ Network.
She has grown the charity from supporting just 30 girls in 2013, to over 1,000 in 2018. The charity aims to have a presence in each region by 2020, and to work in partnership with others in the UK and further afield to help ensure unlimited futures for all girls and young women. She also mentors and advises other social entrepreneurs who are starting up or running organisations to support girls, women and young people.
Each week, What Matters Most interviews a revolutionary leader from the business and activism world about what is most important to them in their life and work. We are deeply inspired by these people and we hope our readers will be too!
When were you happiest in your life? What do you put that happiness down to?
The moments in my life I’ve been happiest have been when I’ve been singing in a choir with some of my favourite people in the world, when I’ve been in North Cornwall, where I spent much of my childhood, or when I’ve witnessed the impact that the charity is having – on girls, mentors, or indeed the team.
I think in each case I have been doing something that is fulfilling and allows me to be myself – be it creating beautiful music, feeling the sea breeze and sunshine on my face as a stride along the coastline, or seeing the impact of meaningful human connection.
What's the one thing you wish you knew 20 years ago? If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?
That thinking differently to other people is a wonderful thing, and that there is no ‘right’ way of living life.
Like many teenagers, aged 16 I spent far too much time worrying about fitting in and being like everyone else. As an adult, I realise that it is many of things that made me stand out that a value most now, and the things that bring me most joy and fulfilment.
I guess the other thing I’d tell myself is that most people are as scared as you are about getting things right, and not being good enough. You are good enough – and frankly most people are faking it until they make it, anyway!
What matters the most to you in your work and why?
One of the things that matters most to me about our work is how we are able to support girls and women to realise their value, and to accept that they are unique and amazing as they are. That, regardless of their gender or background, they can achieve incredible things.
For our girls, it’s wonderful witnessing the sense of worth they get simply on the realisation that a professional woman has chosen to invest time and energy in them because they believe in them and their potential. And then, seeing that grow over a year as they develop as confident young women.
I love seeing our mentors begin to understand the value they can add and how things that they have sometimes taken for granted can hugely benefit another. I love watching them learn from their mentees as well as helping them, and both growing as a result of the relationship.
Finally, the fact that we are creating a positive movement of women and girls, supporting and championing each other, and that we are affording this opportunity to girls who might otherwise not have access to it, but who are as deserving and capable as their peers, to me is hugely important.
It is important because of the message it sends about working together and building each other up. And it is important because it means that the thousands of young women who believed they could not pursue their passions because of their gender or background are inspired, equipped and supported to flourish!
The Story of the Girls' Network
Our mission at The Girls’ Network is to inspire and empower girls from the least advantaged communities by connecting them with a mentor and a network of professional female role models.
Charly and Becca were secondary school teachers in North West London when they witnessed the multiple barriers facing girls in their classrooms:
- The pressure to conform to ideals
- A lack of confidence or self-belief
- A lack of professional female role models in their networks
They established a one-to-one mentoring scheme for 30 girls in 2013, based on research showing that conversations and personal relationships could have a big impact on challenging stereotypes and expectations.
They believed that the girls needed a greater access to opportunities, but also the confidence to seize those opportunities and the skills to thrive in them.
The Girls’ Network mentoring was soon in high demand, and now operates across London, the South Coast, West Midlands, North West and North East, working with more than 1,000 girls each year.
100% of girls on the programme last year reported feeling more confident in themselves and in how to get to where they want to go.
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