Spotlight on Karina Capulong’s “Inspire Girls To”

Celebrating Women’s History Month with Karina Capulong; a chat about visionary women, empowering girls, and a new definition of a female leader

PHOTO: Vinnie Verite of Alum Rock Studio.

PHOTO: Vinnie Verite of Alum Rock Studio.

The idea behind Inspire Girls To is that if a girl saw reflections of herself in women leaders, pioneers, and change-makers, perhaps she would find the confidence within herself and think, “If they could do it, I can too.”

Karina Capulong and I met in ballet school as adolescents. Our families became friends over the years, and I got to know Karina even better when we went to the same high school. We participated in the same performing arts activities, and something I always admired about Karina was her ability to lead by example. She was never bossy and yet she possessed the qualities of a good leader. She radiated a calming and encouraging energy that put those around her at ease. I came across her project through a couple mutual friends who were involved. Inspire Girls To (or iG2) empowers girls by educating them about influential women who have paved the way for more girls and women to lead and succeed in their own special ways. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I thought it perfect timing to reflect on how we can learn from the example of great women in history and continue to propel that inspiration into the rest of the year.

Karina holds a BS in Community & Regional Development with a minor in Sociology from UC Davis and a Masters in Public Administration with honors from San Francisco State University and currently works at Genentech. In her own words, “my vision for Inspire Girls To is to create a community of girls who believe in themselves, support one another, and want to lead and do good in the world. Essentially, by empowering girls now, I see a world where more women are confident, compassionate, and leading the pack.”

We feature women of varying backgrounds—race, nationality, socioeconomic status, career path, sexual orientation, physical ability, etc. The more types of women you feature, the more opportunity you have to impact all types of girls.

C: You work at a biotech company. What led you to such a creative and empowering project?

Throughout most of my college and post-collegiate career, I was very much involved in community efforts that benefitted underrepresented, under-resourced groups—especially youth. It has definitely taken me some time to be comfortable with the fact that my job at Genentech is a step off my expected career trajectory and passion. Still, I figured if I wanted to do something that benefits causes I care about AND make a living that would support the kind of life I envisioned for myself, nothing was stopping me except myself. So, once I found myself inspired, I ran with the idea and started G-Project, which eventually grew into my “side” passion project, Inspire Girls To (iG2). 

C: I’m familiar with the side hustle passion project, having co-founded my first blog The Single Diaries and now my personal blog Something Catchy. Where did the idea for Inspire Girls To come from? 

Youth development and women’s empowerment have always been important to me, so I tend to keep up with influencers and organizations that support these efforts. Last June I came across a mother’s photography project featuring her daughter dressed up as groundbreaking women like Helen Keller, Coco Chanel, and Susan B. Anthony. My first thought was, “This is so awesome!” then almost immediately afterwards, “But…what about little girls of color? What about women role models of color? What about girls and women of different backgrounds?” Surely there was nothing intentionally exclusive or wrong about Jaime Moore’s photo series, but I thought (and still think) that it is so important for all girls to visualize themselves as confident, capable leaders who can achieve whatever they aspire to. The idea behind Inspire Girls To is that if a girl saw reflections of herself in women leaders, pioneers, and change-makers, perhaps she would find the confidence within herself and think, “If they could do it, I can too.”

Growing up I didn’t see too many women in the media that looked like me or who had life stories I could really relate to. I looked up to celebrities like Julia Roberts, Oprah, and Barbara Walters. When I heard about Lea Salonga, I was both proud and excited at how this Filipina woman was making it big on Broadway and even provided singing vocals for a Disney princess. Filipinos achieving mainstream success are so few and far between, so she stood out to me as a young girl.

As I grew older and came across other women with similar ambitions or similar struggles, I was both comforted and inspired. I wanted to learn from them and hear their stories, find out what made them tick and how they overcame personal struggles. I believe the desire to connect and learn from one another is part of being human, and uncovering those shared experiences bonds us. Sharing how we overcome fears and obstacles for the better—that inspires us. I wanted to inspire girls early on and show them that they are not alone, that women and girls just like them face similar hurdles and are still doing amazing things around the world. So I decided to recreate a different version of Moore’s project. This time we would feature women of varying backgrounds—race, nationality, socioeconomic status, career path, sexual orientation, physical ability, etc. The more types of women you feature, the more opportunity you have to impact all types of girls.

C: It’s super cool that you were drawn to the struggles, because you’re right… that’s what binds us in the human experience. That’s what drew me to The Conversation which helped form The Single Diaries in some ways. What was your original vision, and how has that evolved in the process?

The project’s original mission was to inspire girls to lead, create, discover, rise to a challenge by simply recreating Moore’s project with a twist. I’m proud to say that in just eight months (with no pre-existing structure, office, or initial funding) we’ve accomplished that goal. iG2 launched the photo series on March 1st in honor of Women’s History Month. You can view the photo series and read about these women on our website.

I’m so humbled by the generosity and willingness of so many people to commit their time, energy and resources to a mere idea. The influx of ideas and the willingness to brainstorm ways to inspire girls was a clear indicator to me that girls’ empowerment and development hits home for a lot of people—not just women. What’s unique about supporting a project like Inspire Girls To is that our early supporters rallied behind an idea—not an organization, not a tangible social problem in which donations can easily be measured by the number of mouths fed or the number of homes built.

The vision will not change, but how we fulfill it is evolving. We’re in the process of developing community workshops that will pilot at existing venues where girls already gather after school or on the weekends. These workshops will touch on topics like self-esteem (healthy body confidence, inner beauty, nutrition, and fitness) and leadership (public speaking, strengths, communication skills) and will provide a space for girls to connect and share with one another and with women in their community. In keeping with our original idea, iG2 plans to feature a new creative project every year. The concepts will vary and the artists may change, but the intention will stay the same: inspire girls to be confident and compassionate leaders.

The most effective leaders come from a place of compassion and concern for others and the desire to help. Who’s to say a leader (regardless of gender) can’t be compassionate and fearless, ambitious and kind?

C: With idea projects, it’s also more difficult to measure who you’re reaching. That’s great that the idea is really just phase one in a larger mission. How did you choose each of the four women above? 

When our team got together in July of last year, we compiled a long list of prominent women, cut it down to 30, then eventually to 12. As I mentioned earlier, we wanted women from all walks of life so different girls could hopefully relate to at least one role model from our selection.

  • Despite being born into poverty and a troubled adolescence, Oprah chased a dream, always strives to be her best self, and creates life-shifting opportunities for others through her entrepreneurship and philanthropic work.
  • Sonia Sotomayor grew up in the projects with immigrant parents, a fear of speaking up in class, and a struggle with Type 1 diabetes. Today she’s the first Hispanic U.S. Supreme Court Justice and is well known for her empathy, candor, ambition, and her advocacy for the Latino community.
  • Malala is fearless. Even before the Taliban tried to assassinate her, she was blogging about the injustices of denying girls an education in her country; she is still building an awareness and movement for education as a basic human right.
  • Marie Curie shattered many expectations of women in her time—breaking barriers in academics and in the world of science. She developed the theory of radioactivity, discovered two elements, and established the field of radiation therapy for cancer. Not to mention, she was out in field near the front lines, treating soldiers with radioactive equipment during World War I. She was a badass in the lab and on the battlefield.

Each of these women overcame obstacles in some way, knows her value and her potential, and makes the world a better place for others.

C: What have you learned from the words and work of each of the four women?

I think women leaders often come off as or are portrayed as domineering or cold, but I think it can be the opposite. Kindness and compassion are not signs of weakness. If anything, in a world that can be so rife with selfishness and violence, choosing to be compassionate can be more difficult than reacting with malice. I’ve noticed that the most effective leaders come from a place of compassion and concern for others and the desire to help. How they pursue their goals might happen differently, but the intent is one of empathy. Who’s to say a leader (regardless of gender) can’t be compassionate and fearless, ambitious and kind? These characteristics are not mutually exclusive, and I believe girls should embrace that if they are going to lead in this world.

C: I love that re-definition of a leader. People get so caught up in adjectives and extremes that we forget that the best things are balanced. What do you see in the next year for Inspire Girls To? Where will you be by Women’s History Month/International Women’s Day 2015?

I see iG2’s reach expanding to inspire more girls outside of our current scope and to connect directly with girls, whether it’s through our community workshops or other efforts. By Women’s History Month 2015, iG2 will hopefully have unveiled another creative project that inspires girls to be confident, to be compassionate, and to lead. We are currently sponsored by a great non-profit, called Goodwill Without Borders. Depending on how we’re doing in 2015, we may begin exploring the possibility of iG2 becoming our own 501c3 nonprofit organization.

PHOTO: Vinnie Verite of of Alum Rock Studio.

PHOTO: Vinnie Verite of of Alum Rock Studio.

I admire any woman who knows who she is and owns it. She exudes confidence and happiness for herself and no one else, and her energy inspires those around her.

C: That’s exciting! It’s great to have concrete goals, and it’s even more wonderful when the universe surprises us with something we didn’t even think possible. Who are your personal women role models? What qualities of theirs do you strive to emulate?

Confidence. Fearlessness. Those are the qualities that come to mind. Ellen, Beyonce, and Amy Poehler are a few celebrities I wouldn’t mind being BFFs with! I admire any woman who knows who she is and owns it. She exudes confidence and happiness for herself and no one else, and her energy inspires those around her. That is the type of woman I want to be.

C: I love that. She is who she is for herself. On that note, The Single Diaries described “superbly single” as someone in a relationship or not who is independent, fierce, strong… a philosophy I continue to hold dear. How do you stay superbly single?

I try not to let opportunity pass me by, even if the timing isn’t ideal. If there’s a chance to learn something or to contribute to something bigger than me, why not? I’ve been in a relationship for 10.5 years (whoa! I know!), but even so… I’m definitely my own person, and he is too. We don’t share all of the same interests, but we cheer each other on, and we respect each other more for it.

I like to surround myself with all things inspiring—people, stories, ideas. It’s motivating. I try to surround myself with people who are bold, thoughtful, and have a sense of humor. I cheer for the underdog. I geek out over novel ideas, and I don’t want to stop learning. I’m embracing who I am, and everyday I’m a little happier with whom I am becoming.

I don’t want to stop learning. I’m embracing who I am, and everyday I’m a little happier with whom I am becoming.

Lessons Learned Through Inspire Girls To

    • “Let your faith be bigger than your fear.” I don’t know the origin of the quote, but it rings true for me throughout this process. There were times when I worried about what people thought. They think this is a useless cause. They think this is a waste of my time. They don’t get it. Then I realized, They don’t have to get it. Some people never will, but don’t let that deter you. I know why I’m doing this and why this is important. Don’t be afraid to try, to fail, or to mess up, and sometimes you have to try things you’re not ready for. All else will follow. Besides, people don’t support how you do something, they support why you do it. And why you do it is what matters.
    • Surround yourself with people who believe in you and your goals, and who believe in themselves. It’s empowering, and you’re more likely to thrive in an environment with those people. There were times when I started to lose sight of what mattered because I was too engrossed in the timeline or the long list of the little things that needed to get done. Then someone will come along with energy and enthusiasm, genuine words of encouragement, or even just conviction in their own work, and I’m reminded why I fell in love with the idea of iG2 in the first place.
    • Leaders need to be team players too. Building iG2 has been a lot of work. It takes a lot of coordinating and managing (especially when everyone collaborates remotely and most team members haven’t actually met in person). It’s easy to get lost in the tasks and objectives and detract from the vision. I’m learning that I’m a better leader when I stay positive, keep the team focused on “the why,” and guide the project in the right direction. I may be the founder and the glue that keeps the team together, but there are some great leaders within our team who channel their expertise and guide us toward the best decisions for the project. It’s definitely a collaborative effort, and every single team member has brought value to what we’ve created. Our growth would not be possible without the entire team.
    • Take care of yourself. Work-life balance is so important. In many ways, this project has been a blessing. In other ways, it has sucked up my energy and time like nothing else I’ve done. This was my own doing. I didn’t sleep much; I wasn’t taking time to be active or go outside; I was glued to my laptop; I was becoming a workaholic. I saw this tendency in some of my team members too, and it’s just not healthy. On top of my day job and iG2, I’m planning my wedding for fall of this year. Trying to do too much at once is a recipe for disaster. Now I’m putting daily limits on certain activities, making time for people and activities that energize me, and I’m more forgiving if I can’t tick off every box on my growing to-do list. I already notice a positive change and feel much better. It’s better for everyone else around you too.
    • “Don’t be timid with your talents. Learn to trust them.” Whether it was one of the girls who participated in the photo shoot, a team member, or myself, I’ve seen self-doubt grow into confidence in the process. It’s a beautiful thing. Talents and skills benefit no one—including yourself—if you don’t share them with others.
PHOTO: The team behind Inspire Girls To by Hamilton Pingol.

PHOTO: The team behind Inspire Girls To by Hamilton Pingol.

Have questions for Karina? Leave them in the comments below! For more on Inspire Girls To, visit their website and follow them on Facebook.

Originally posted on The Single Diaries.

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