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May 18, 2021

How one YLAI Fellow turned her personal journey into a business empowering marginalized girls in Canada

Launching your business or nonprofit organization will often be about more than offering a product or a service. It will be about telling your story. Many YLAI Fellows have realized the importance of telling their story by focusing on their brand and communicating what sets them apart. This often means building a relationship with members of your audience, making them feel personally connected to the cause of your organization. Being able to explain the motivation behind your business, and how it influenced what it is today, is an important part of building your brand and getting your unique message across.

Few know this better than Aisha Addo, a 2021 YLAI Fellow in Toronto. Addo is the founder and CEO of Power to Girls, a not-for-profit organization that creates a safe space for Black and marginalized girls in the Toronto area and abroad, focusing on leadership, personal and emotional development, entrepreneurship, and mentorship. Power to Girls, Addo explains, came from a simple concept: “I am seeing young girls having the same experiences I did when I was 14. How can I turn this into a resource?”

Addo immigrated to Canada from Ghana at the age of 14 and struggled to find a place where she could be herself. “I realized that there were a lot of programs being run,” she recounted, “but not any tailored towards marginalized girls.” As more time went on, she learned that she wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Her personal journey became an opportunity.

“It started out as a conversation with six girls,” Addo told YLAI. “Our experiences were so common, having issues with self-esteem, among other things. One of the things that made Power to Girls work was that it was a safe space to talk about those things, a community to be ourselves. Creating that bond, that supportive space, between these girls.”

For Addo, figuring out her business’s brand came at the same time as discovering her identity. “Coming to Canada when I was 14, I was at the peak of figuring out who I was. Having that space to hold yourself accountable, it allowed me to mature and grow. The girls wanted that same level of mentorship from me as well.”

Addo developed a better sense of what it means to be herself, but also developed a better sense of how to present Power to Girls to the world. This understanding was especially helpful during COVID-19. “Throughout the pandemic, the challenge presented was ‘How can we duplicate the essence of what Power to Girls is?’ online. We are really about in-person connections. How do we make sure the girls feel connected? We were worried about it, but we realized that the girls still felt connected and were still thriving and learning new things. That main challenge at the beginning of the pandemic allowed us to create a new aspect of Power to Girls.” Addo developed My Power App, a social connection platform for girls to connect with mentors and each other while accessing resources for personal development.

Building your brand is about more than choosing a color scheme or a logo. It means discovering your own personal story and deciding how you want to communicate it to others. The experiences and details that made Aisha unique are also what makes Power to Girls unique. How does your background connect to the problem you are trying to solve or the opportunities you are trying to provide? How can people know what your values are and where they come from? Once you have these reflections and your answers, share your brand with the world.

Thank you to Aisha Addo for her time and expertise! If you would like to learn more tips and tricks about how to build your brand, check out YLAI Brand Better for more resources. 

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewees and do not necessarily reflect those of the YLAI Network or the U.S. government.