Fordham junior Emily Raleigh started Smart Girls Group in 2012, after writing an advice book for her younger sister, Sophie, on how to succeed in high school. Since then, the social enterprise company has attracted more than 1,000 members in 50 states and 44 countries. It includes college chapters, online courses, conferences, an internship program, and a digital magazine. Raleigh has earned several grants and awards, including a $10,000 prize as the winner of the 2014 New York Young Entrepreneur Challenge.
Were you always a smart girl?
My parents raised my sister and me to have a strong work ethic. I definitely did well in school, but more than that, I was a really hard worker and passionate about learning. Smart isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing. What makes a smart girl smart is recognizing her passions and seeing the world for what it could be and not for what it is.
Why the need for Smart Girls Group?
Being smart isn’t as celebrated or valued for young women. If you’re smart, you’re considered power hungry or unfriendly or mean. The media doesn’t spotlight smart women enough. Even questions I get as a young woman starting a business are ones my guy entrepreneur friends would never be asked. I’ve been asked if I have a boyfriend, how I stay in shape—you would never ask a guy this! It has nothing to do with Smart Girls Group.
So I won’t ask you if you have a boyfriend, but do you find some guys feel threatened by you being a social entrepreneur at age 20?
It can be hard for men in general to understand Smart Girls Group, but they’re not the target market. I find time and again, people who are entrepreneurs, regardless of gender, are very supportive of me. I hope I pay it forward, too.
So is Smart Girls Group like Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In but for millennials?
Lean In talks about what needs to happen for women in the work world as the end goal. Smart Girls Group has taken it one step further—not just leaning in to your work life, but stepping up for life, into whoever it is you want to be.
As a smart girl, you probably had your pick of colleges. Why Fordham?
A huge draw was being in New York and having access to whatever resources I could find here. I also needed a home where there was going to be strong female leadership. We have a female dean of the Gabelli School of Business, Donna Rapaccioli, which is so cool, and she has been unbelievably supportive, as have so many others. The Fordham Foundry (the University’s small-business incubator) has given me mentorship and helped me network and find funding. Fordham has invested in me. And the social aspect of Smart Girls, to help young women find their inner trailblazer, is very Jesuit-based. I think that’s also why Fordham is such a good fit for me.
You’re a marketing major with a concentration in communications and media management. Has that helped you in growing Smart Girls?
The best class I’ve ever taken has been my accounting class. Once you understand how money works, you can do anything. Another great course I took is Consumer Behavior, taught by Lerzan Aksoy, on how we perceive our customers, both our target audience and our advertisers.
What do you do for fun?
I’m here on a merit scholarship, so I have to keep my grades up, and Smart Girls takes up a lot of time, which I don’t mind—it’s my personal playground. My family lives 20 steps from the beach, so when I go home, I love to sail. On my bucket list is to take out a rowboat in Central Park.
Interview conducted, edited, and condensed by Donna Cornachio.