Kate Zipin knows what empowerment looks like. As the founder and director of Own Your Awesomeness, a program that uses summer camps to help high school girls take pride in who they are, she has seen empowerment in action.
“Last summer towards the end of camp I asked the girls to spend some time writing an introduction for themselves,” Zipin remembers. After several minutes, Zipin invited the women to present their introductions to the group.
“I thought that maybe two or three girls would want to share,” Zipin recalls. Instead, five girls immediately raised their hands.
“The first girl went up and talked about her family, and when she was done the room exploded in applause,” says Zipin. “Another talked about wanting to be the first in her family to go to college.” By the end of the session every girl but one had shared her story to affirming words and raucous applause.
“I was really proud of them,” Zipin says, “but maybe more importantly I could see that they were really proud of themselves and each other.”
Since she started Own Your Awesomeness three years ago, Zipin has watched teens find their voices. Through open dialogue about cultural issues impacting women, skills building workshops that teach girls how to change a tire or use power tools, and activities that keep the girls moving and having fun together, these young women create a sense of pride in each other and themselves.
Seeing the program’s impact is not an issue. The struggle for Zipin (and most nonprofits) is measuring that impact. More and more grants are requiring data as part of the application process, and even individual donors appreciate metrics as a way of ensuring their money makes a difference.
To help her address the need for data, Zipin reached out to the Fox Board Fellows program at Temple University’s Fox School of Business. Fox Board Fellows was created in 2000 to match skilled MBA students with non-profit boards for year-long partnerships supported by coursework.
“Fox Board Fellows is a win-win for its nonprofit partners and the Fellows,” says Program Director Maureen Cannon. “Nonprofit partners benefit from hosting an experienced, passionate MBA student as a non-voting, working board member. Fellows gain valuable insight and perspective on the realities of nonprofit management and are better prepared to be effective board leaders in the future.”
Own Your Awesomeness was matched with Fox Board Fellow Teena Bounpraseuth, a full-time student in the Global MBA program. A native of Philadelphia, Bounpraseuth says non-profit youth programs were a big part of her own childhood in the city.
“Growing up, I was part of the youth arts workshop program through the Asian Arts Initiative,” says Bounpraseuth. “It gave me an opportunity to learn more about my Asian American identity in a safe and inviting space and to see how art can be used in bridging communities. The Initiative was really important to me as a teenager and I see Own Your Awesomeness doing similar work with the summer camp. Kate and her team are amazing. They’re helping to build a network of strong, confident, and independent women.”
One of Bounpraseuth’s most vivid memories of that time was watching an Asian American spoken word duo. “Just to see the confidence in those women meant so much to me. Seeing them ooze confidence, knowing their history, embracing it, and that empowering them — It helped set an example for me.”
To help Own Your Awesomeness quantify their impact, Bounpraseuth interviewed leaders from several nonprofits throughout the city that work with youth. “Everyone measures impact differently,” she says. “The key is that your metrics are actionable, manageable and comparable, and most importantly that they align with your organization’s mission.”
Bounpraseuth also led the board through a logic model. This tool helps organizations think through how their resources and activities translate into the outputs and broader impact they hope to have.
“The Logic Model was helpful,” Zipin says, “because it gave us a chance to get on the same page about our goals. Now that we have those articulated, we can ask questions in our assessments that specifically apply to those goals.”
Bounpraseuth’s project helped Own Your Awesomeness define what metrics they should be tracking, and also highlighted that some things make better stories than charts. “One thing I’ve learned is that, even if people have a lot of numbers, there’s still a lot left up to interpretation,” she says. “Some things are just very difficult to calculate.”
This month as Zipin wraps up three weeks of camp she will distribute surveys about leadership and confidence, skills building, and plans for the future. Part of Zipin’s impact will make it onto those surveys.
But some of Zipin’s work, uncovering the intangible awesomeness of each of these women, can’t be relegated to a page. Women have laughed at themselves, talked about hard issues, played touch football, and changed tires. Some of that impact will just have to play out in the lives these women forge in the years to come.
Fox Board Fellows just matched another cohort of Fellows with nonprofits! To get a fellow at your nonprofit contact Maureen Cannon at Maureenc@temple.edu.