Stronger together: Sisters Shreya and Sahana encourage resilience and independence for girls in Charlotte, North Carolina

Ignited by a family history of changemaking, Shreya and Sahana embark on their own changemaking journey to change the landscape of economic mobility in their hometown.

Foundation For Girls at a glance:

  • Foundation For Girls is a youth-led social venture based in Charlotte, North Carolina for young girls to encourage economic mobility, resiliency, and independence.
  • Through a “circle of care”, a dynamic team of youth ambassadors and professional coaches organize a range of educational programs around Digital Literacy, Leadership, Financial Wellness, and Health & Well-Being.
  • Aligned with SDG #17 (Partnership for the Goals), SDG #4 (Quality Education), and SDG #8 (Decent Work & Economic Growth) their venture’s model is built off the idea of cooperation and collaboration with individual and corporate experts for greater economic mobility.
  • By the end of June 2019, with 65 coaches, the team have impacted over 2,050 girls since its inception in December 2014 while conducting over 400 workshops and investing 35,000 total hours of coaching and training.

Changemakers are stronger together. Sisters Shreya and Sahana grew up learning the value of self-reliance and independence while embracing the power of collaboration to uplift everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status. Ignited by a family history of changemaking, the sisters embark on their own changemaking journey to enable other young girls to thrive in their community.

With a family history of changemaking, Shreya and Sahana’s parents were early ignitors of the sisters’ changemaking journeys. Their mother grew up in a family that started a co-op for local women to learn sewing as a viable profession for their own economic independence, while their father’s family taught Sanskrit classes in their backyard for kids who could not afford to go to school. Growing up, their parents taught the sisters their importance of financial literacy and wellbeing as crucial to being independent and self-reliant, especially for young girls.

In their hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, Shreya and Sahana’s mother was also determined for her daughters to feel connected to their community and understand the different realities of young girls across the city. Although the sisters felt that their city was a very giving community, they learned that despite all of the nonprofits and charitable efforts in the area, Charlotte still ranked last in economic mobility of the largest 50 cities in the United States.

Their eagerness to give back to their community was multiplied when their paternal grandmother passed away in 2014 from pancreatic cancer. She imparted to her grandchildren that her last wish was to uplift vulnerable young women, including in India where she was from and raised her family.

Inspired by their family, the sisters became involved with a local nonprofit organization that offered safe shelter to young girls who have dropped out of middle school, are experiencing homelessness, or survived human trafficking. Shreya, at age 13, volunteered as a tutor while Sahana, in elementary school, delivered bread to the organization. To scale the supply of resources, Shreya and Sahana partnered with a local bread company to routinely deliver and supply food in the pantry.  

“When you begin to love your community, you become a part of the solution,” Shreya says. Shortly after this partnership, Shreya and Sahana saw the power in connecting local businesses with existing nonprofits for the collective good. Together, with the unwavering support of their parents, they started Foundation For Girls, a youth-led venture focused on improving the life trajectory of young girls in their community by bringing together existing nonprofits, professionals, and businesses to maximize their community impact.

Modeled after the values instilled in the sisters by their parents, the goal of the venture is to surround girls with a “circle of care” that enables resiliency, strength, confidence, and independence. This “circle of care” offers programs in digital literacy, financial wellbeing, leadership, and health and wellness through a gamified learning approach so workshops are fun and engaging as well as centered around creative problem-solving.  

Focused on collaboration, the sisters actively unite adult allies -- such as corporate sponsors, community leaders, and 65 expert coaches -- and other young changemakers to lead the holistic programming. The coaches offer their expertise and professional learnings while young ambassadors provide peer support and interaction, some of whom are former participants in the program.

When you see a problem, take action. Begin small, and be collaborative, creative, resilient and preserve,” the sisters say, emphasizing that “you are never too young to start making an impact.”

However, their extensive network of support did not form overnight. The sisters took risks in sending out cold emails and calls to professionals in their community about their idea but often faced rejection as “a lot of people didn’t really believe that a young person, and a young girl specifically, could actually make a difference.” With persistence, along with successfully recruiting a few eager adult allies, the sisters organically grew their network as people would hear about their work by word of mouth and feel compelled to get involved.

Foundation For Girls today works with young women and girls with a range of lived experiences, from teen pregnancy to surviving abuse in the foster care system, through local after school programs, homeless shelters, and residential homes. Forming an uplifting community based on hope and dignity, one young woman’s story stands out in particular:

During a Leadership workshop, Shreya and Sahana met a 19-year-old girl who was pregnant and lived in a residential home for teen moms. During a workshop, the coach was demonstrating to the girls how to prepare a vision board for their future goals and aspirations. He posed the question “what do you want most in life?” The young woman said that her biggest trial in life was when she lost her home and mom at 9 years old. More than anything, she wanted a home for her daughter. To work towards that goal, she started attending the financial wellness program to equip herself with the knowledge and confidence to be financially independent and secure. Foundation For Girls offered a supportive community to guide her in accomplishing her goals--including access to Financial Advisors, Leadership & Mindset Coaches, Physician & Pediatrician, and Digital Literacy coaching. Today, she has a full-time job as a rehab technician and lives in her own apartment with her daughter.

As of Fall 2019, Shreya is headed off to college and will spearhead expansion while Sahana, in 8th grade, will lead and grow Foundation For Girls in Charlotte. The team plans to open chapters in both Chile and India as well as in other communities domestically based on partnerships they have cultivated the past several years.   

“When you see a problem, take action. Begin small, and be collaborative, creative, resilient and preserve,” the sisters say, emphasizing that “you are never too young to start making an impact.”

This story was drafted by Youth Years intern Alex Bybee.

Shreya and Sahana were a part of Ashoka's STEM for Changemaking Challenge in partnership with GM. Learn more here