A First Birthday Like None Other

Although you can't remember it, you've probably seen photos of your first birthday party: you in a highchair, wearing a cone hat strapped around your chin, seated behind a frosted cake inscribed with your name and adorned with a waxy '1' candle. Do you ever wonder what your parents and relatives who surrounded you imagined you'd grow up to be? Most of you probably surpassed their wildest dreams. As you grew, you discovered amazing talents, and because you were lucky to receive an education, you had the tools and the knowledge to break barriers. You became first in your family or in your community to achieve something special.

But what about the 600 million adolescent girls growing up in developing countries who didn't get a first birthday party... maybe they don't even have a birth certificate to know when that date is. Of the one billion people worldwide who have no schooling or left school after less than four years, nearly two thirds are girls and women. So how will they blaze new trails and break the poverty cycle?

This is why one year ago, a group of young women started She's the First -- a simple campaign that grew into a nonprofit organization championing education for girls who don't have access in the developing world. While the education system in our own country has its flaws, as Waiting for 'Superman' shows, our hearts break for the girls who never even get to step foot in a classroom or graduate. We wanted young men and women to join us in creatively fundraising for girls' education sponsorships, knowing that each little dollar we could gather would stretch a long ways in the impoverished developing world. After people host fundraising parties and small events, we connect them with our directory of nonprofit partners, whose sponsorship programs we've vetted and found to transform girls' lives.

On November 1st in New York City, we are celebrating our first birthday at Pop Burger in Midtown with the She's the First Soiree, a bash to benefit the work of our grassroots campus chapters and sponsorships of girls at the Shanti Bhavan Children's Project, our partner school in India. We are also teaming up with Billboard Top 40 artist JoJo and Atlanta-based designer Asha Patel to officially launch a signature bracelet; Asha is donating part of the proceeds to sponsorships at Shanti Bhavan and our Kenya partner, the Kenya Education Fund.

Although we are thrilled that Shontelle and Cara Salimando, two of the recording artists from our GIRLS WHO ROCK benefit concert this past June, will be there to lead us in singing 'Happy Birthday,' what is most special to me about the Soiree is that it's not a celebrity-driven or high-end fundraiser. Instead of a red carpet, we have a fun photo booth, where you can take pictures against a She's the First logo backdrop and buy prints, with proceeds supporting Shanti Bhavan. Instead of tickets that cost hundreds of dollars, we price them at $25 and $111 levels, accessible to young professionals. As inclusively as possible, we want to celebrate and keep fueling the stories of ordinary girls and women, in all parts of the world, doing something extraordinary within the context of their families and communities, all because they've had an education.

What made me fall in love with She's the First in our first year is that it awakened yet another wave in the movement of Millennials using social media for social change. The result has been a real digital connection between the "firsts" who fundraise and our sponsored girls around the globe, who will be "firsts" upon graduation.

Take for example the three girls that She's the First sponsored in the Kisa Project, run by AfricAid in Tanzania, one of the honorable partners in our directory. These girls were sponsored from proceeds of our GIRLS WHO ROCK benefit concert during Internet Week New York. Our performers (Lenka, MoZella, Kat DeLuna, Shontelle, among others) tweeted and Facebooked their fans behind the cause, and we did the same... in the end, we raised $6,000 and supported Elizabeth, Grace and Happiness in Tanzania for two years. We exchange emails with them that we post on our blog, sending your comments back to them. Elizabeth once wrote, "Actually, I do have a special goal and that is being an international business woman. In my country there are few business women, but men are the ones which rock in the word of business here. I want to turn things upside down. I want to be an inspirational figure to other Tanzanian and African girls in general. I do believe that you are my global sisters, and we are united by the passion and courage to make some changes in our societies." Wow.

There has never been a better time to join the movement for girls and women worldwide. The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn brought uncomfortable issues, like child prostitution, sex trafficking, and rape, into the mainstream with their book Half the Sky. The UN Foundation and Nike Foundation, among others, are investing substantial resources into the Girl Up and Girl Effect campaigns, respectively, fueling even more grassroots action (DIY foreign aid, as Nicholas Kristof called it in last week's New York Times Magazine). Along with She's the First, they all remind us that in the face of tragic, mind-numbing statistics, we can each make a life-changing impact on a girl. In our first year, our supporters sponsored just over 30 girls in the name of She's the First. If we all take action, these seemingly small contributions can truly make explosive gains toward the UN's Millennial Development Goals for universal education and gender equality by 2015.

Wherever you are in the world, we invite you to join us November 1st in celebrating what it means to be a "first." Let us know in the comments what you've been "first" to do. For me, I was first in my family to travel to Africa and move to New York City, two experiences that changed the rest of my life and led me to create She's the First a year ago. Then, think about it: how are you use your footing as a "first" to give another girl her chance to step forward into opportunity?