October 11th is Day of the Girl — a day to raise awareness of global gender inequality and promote girls’ empowerment. The United Nations General Assembly declared the day in 2011, and it is now celebrated worldwide.
One organization that embodies the mission of this day all year is Finding the Fabulous, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that inspires the next generation of female role models to lead with confidence, creativity and compassion. Founded in 2009 by Lauren Curiotto, Fabulous now supports 2500 girls who participate in seven programs throughout the year.
“Our programs target self-esteem, leadership and professional development,” said Curiotto.
As a guest speaker at their Teen Conference two summers in a row, I’ve been impressed that staff members treat girl participants with the same respect they would adults. They brought me in to talk about negotiation, a skill that may not seem relevant at a young age.
“Something we teach the girls is how to negotiate their own validity,” said Curiotto. “How do you convince people to take your ideas seriously when your age is held against you? We're seeing more and more young girls interested in entrepreneurial ventures, but being looked over because they lack experience.”
As a young founder herself, Curiotto, 26, knows what the girls are going through.
“There have been countless times where I have spoken to someone over the phone or via email, and when we finally met in person, they showed visible disbelief that I was the same person,” she said. “A woman once said to me, ‘Where is the real person in charge here?’ so I totally get how they're feeling!”
Negotiation is welcome — and intentionally encouraged — at Finding the Fabulous.
This year, eight 12 year old campers had an opportunity to brainstorm and pitch their leaders on new activities to implement the following year.
“They negotiated among themselves how they would come up with ideas, communicate with each other and decide which ideas were going to move forward to be pitched,” said Curiotto.
The girls culled their original list by more than half, and ultimately presented 12 new ideas.
“When it came time to pitch, there were a few times where I thought, that’s not going to work,” said Curiotto. “But they persisted. They said wait, let us show you how this game works. They modeled it out to convince me that it made sense. I was happy to see that they didn’t give up on their ideas and was surprised at how many we were able to incorporate into the agenda for this coming summer.”
One camper who negotiated on her own behalf is Olivia Fazio, 14, from Montville, NJ. She’s a junior counselor and former camper who negotiated with Curiotto to sell her own jewelry in the camp boutique.
“I’ve been making my own jewelry for a long time,” said Fazio. “I just think it’s less expensive, honestly. It can cost $3 to make a bracelet, when buying would cost like $15.”
She started in sixth grade (she’s now in ninth) as a way to be stylish without spending. She now sells her bracelets at garage sales for around $5 each.
With some successes under her belt, Fazio decided to ask Curiotto if she could sell her bracelets at the camp boutique: “I went up to Lauren and said, hey, I make jewelry and I’ve sold it before. Do you think you’d let me sell them at camp if I donated some of the profit?”
“That was the first time I’d ever had a request like that, and at first I was caught off guard,” reflected Curiotto. “We sell branded merchandise at the camp boutique. But I realized how brave Olivia was to ask — that took courage.”
Fazio donated 20% of her proceeds back to the camp. Last year she made $32, and this year she nearly doubled her profits, for a total of $60. So how does a budding entrepreneur use her new income?
“I used more than half to replenish my beads and stuff, and then part of the money is for my time and effort — that portion I saved for a new phone. I’m aiming for the iPhone 6S.”
This post originally appeared in Women@Forbes, where Alexandra Dickinson is a contributor. She writes about how to use a negotiation mindset to achieve your goals.