Emerging leaders

One teen’s mission to support girls

Zofia Kierner is only 16, but can already count launching a foundation as one of her achievements. Zofia started Girls Future Ready to support education and growth of other teenagers like her. We sat with Zofia to ask about her motivation behind the project and finding a balance between work, school, and being a teenager.

What does being a social activist mean to you?

 

Being a social activist means a lot of things to me and that comes from my background and my story. When I was eight years old, I executed my very first charity project. I have Polish roots, but I’ve lived in several countries due to my parents’ jobs. I remember visiting a local Polish school one summer and I noticed that the materials they used to teach English were not very engaging. It’s so hard to learn English just from boring textbooks. So, I started collecting used English language books and donating them to Polish schools to help with teaching English. Back then, being a social activist for me meant simply being involved in charity projects. If you think about it, the basis behind it is fairly simple; it’s just collecting English books and delivering them to people who need them. But later on, it expanded into the mission of Girls Future Ready – empowering young women to reach for their dreams and aspire to achieve high status in global careers in the future. So right now, being a social activist means helping others by standing behind a mission you support and making the world a little bit of a better place.

 

What’s the mission of your foundation?

 

The mission of Girls Future Ready is to help girls from Central Eastern Europe be better prepared for global careers. We base our work on a few key pillars: public speaking skills, English speaking skills, confidence and a global mindset. We develop these skills through our key programs such as Girls Global Ready, Girls English Ready, HerStory Project, and now the #togetherforteachers program which helps English classes in Polish schools during the difficult time of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Where did this mission come from? When I interact with girls from Eastern Europe, I notice they are very talented, but they lack confidence, or they are afraid to speak up. There are so many programs that help older women. If you ask various organizations for help, they say: “wow, that’s great! come back when you’re older!”. It’s so important to help these young girls work towards their goals early on so they can develop the skills they’re going to need in their professional lives.

 

What lessons have you learned from the challenges that you have faced so far?

 

I think being persistent is really important, so if that’s having to email someone 15 times before they say yes, maybe that’s the way you have to go, but you learn a lot about interactions with people; I think I’ve learned so much about things like the basics of running a non-profit, which is similar to running a business or a startup. I think this is something everyone should experience as you can learn so many things no matter what age you are!

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Team of Girls Future Ready, Zofia in the middle (credit: Anna Harrington)

You’re a student at the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy in Boston and you’re also running many activities after school. As a 16-year-old, do you have time for fun at all?

 

I get asked that pretty often. I’m a busy person. I’m not going to lie, it’s a lot of work. The coursework is really difficult. Additionally, I play tennis and then Girls Future Ready Foundation is a huge passion project that takes all the rest of my time. And I get asked, “Why do you do this?” or “For what?” And I think it’s because, eventually, it’s worth it. I like to see the outcome of my work, whether it’s hearing stories of girls who were inspired by the work that we do, or simply the smiles of the kids who received English books. I feel constant drive and motivation to do more and refuse to give up.

But in terms of balance, I think there’s time for everything in life, if you know how to manage your time well. Prioritizing is an important skill and I strongly believe that if you make time for what you believe is important, there will be time for everything.

 

W Insight partnered with Girls Future Ready Foundation to execute the HerStory mentorship program. Joanna Socha, W Insight’s Editor-in-Chief was a mentor for 15-year-old Maja Golebiewska for about three months. Throughout the mentorship program, Maja had the opportunity to learn the basics of interviewing and even share a byline on one of the W Insight stories, available here.

 

Interview by: Joanna Socha

Edited by: Diana Asatryan, Phyllis Budka

Photos by Anna Harrington 

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