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The ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative is a groundbreaking partnership between ANN INC., parent company of Ann Taylor and LOFT, and Vital Voices. We are working together to empower young women from across the U.S. with the leadership skills they need to affect global progress, invest in their communities and begin their journeys as the next generation of leaders.

Hanna is a 2012 ANNpower Fellow who attended the Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C. in June. In addition to founding the Girls Leadership Network Summit, Hanna serves as the Chair of the Florida Youth Commission, is a founding member of the Florida Coalition against Domestic Violence Youth Advisory Board, and is the only youth member appointed to the Leon County Commission on the Status of Women and Girls.

This is Hanna’s story:

Throughout my life, I have had strong female role models who have encouraged me to try new things, seek leadership roles, and succeed. These women have been integral in shaping the person that I am. When I attended the 2012 ANNpower Vital Voices Leadership Forum, I was mentored by women who are affecting change across the globe and interacted with my peers who are creating change across the country.

One of these women was my ANNpower Advisor, Laura Alonso. The biggest takeaway I learned from her was to be unafraid to fight for what I believe in. She went bravely from the public sphere in the Argentinean Congress to an NGO. Despite the fact that she was surrounded by corruption, she fought and continues to fight for government transparency. Her courage inspired me to make further change in my community and to never shy away from a challenge.

It became evident to me that there was a lack of access to female mentors for girls in my community, and through the ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative, I was given the tools to affect this issue. This was the beginning of the Girls Leadership Network.

The Girls Leadership Network is an initiative that I created in my hometown of Tallahassee, Florida to promote leadership, mentorship and activism. The inaugural Girls Leadership Network Summit was held on January 18th, 2013 where over 200 women and girls came together to learn from each other.

The day kicked off with opening remarks from Lauren Wollack, Vital Voices Program Manager for Leadership and Mentoring, and a keynote speech from Wansley Walters, Secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. She spoke about her experiences as a female leader and as the only woman to ever hold the position.

The women leaders then went into a breakout session on supporting girls through mentorship, and the girls went into a session on activism and communicating their vision. During lunch, Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente spoke about her mentoring experiences and her journey to where she is today. The highlight of the day for me was the speed networking session, which allowed everyone to discuss their commonalities and share contact information. The summit continued with a fashion show on dressing for success and remarks from Teresa Segarra, Director of Charitable Initiatives at ANN INC., on the company’s commitment to giving back. Local organizations had booths at the event to share details about their work and how women and girls can get involved in the community. The day closed with an open forum, where the participants gave feedback on what they would like to see in the future.

There was an overwhelmingly positive response to the event. One participant spoke about how she did not previously think that anyone cared about women’s rights or social issues, and that she now felt a new sense of purpose. Another participant later told us that she had received the opportunity to intern at three different organizations through the connections she had made at the event. In just this past week, I have already been informed that three participants have taken steps to start clubs and groups in the community. The impact of this event speaks to the need in the community, and although the 2013 summit is over, I plan to continue holding the summit in future years. In addition, I am currently working on building a mentor database and holding smaller intermittent events between the summits. After the Leadership Forum, the concept of paying it forward has stuck with me, and I refer to it all of the time. It is contagious. In planning this event, I kept the goal of paying it forward on my mind.

Reflecting on my experience as an ANNpower Fellow, it was the positive energy and the collaborative nature of the Leadership Forum that inspired me to bring women and girls together in my own community. Meeting the other ANNpower Fellows was a unique opportunity to connect with passionate girls with diverse interests. It is important for women and girls to support each other, and through my interactions with the ANNpower Fellows, I have made lifelong friends and contacts.

Becoming an ANNpower Fellow proved to me that anyone can make a change, and I hope to continue to be an example to others.

Learn more about Hanna here and check out the Girls Leadership Network website.

Watch my interview about the Summit here:

Watch Dimensions: Hanna Karimipour on PBS. See more from WFSU American Graduate.