Bernadette Lim, undergraduate at Harvard University, believes in the power of action-oriented change and gender empowerment. She knows that the world can be a better place, and she’s doing something about it.
While a high school student in Los Angeles, Bernadette Lim found herself talking to friends about difficulties they experienced as they prepared to transition from high school to college, particularly in the areas of body image, gender media stereotypes, healthy relationships, and youth leadership. Moved by these conversations, she saw the need for an inclusive youth-centered, youth-led space for open dialogue about diverse experiences and injustices faced by women and girls throughout the world.
In the summer of 2014, she put her ideas put into action and founded Women SPEAK, a non-profit organization based in Los Angeles that cultivates open dialogue on girls’ and women’s empowerment. To date Women SPEAK has organized two leadership conferences focused on gender and identity for over 200 girls serving more than twenty-two high schools throughout the greater Los Angeles area. Building on the success of the conferences, the Women SPEAK Mentorship Program was created, which matches high school girls with college mentors. Students and mentors have monthly discussions about current events affecting women and girls, and produce creative projects on social justice issues. So far, more than forty high school girls have been paired with twenty mentors from a variety of colleges including Stanford University, Loyola Marymount University, UCLA, Wellesley College, Harvard University, and Howard University.
Women SPEAK is represented by chapters at colleges and high schools across the nation, and has recently established a Women SPEAK College Scholarship Fund for high school students of low-income to pursue public service projects related to gender, identity, and self-empowerment. This year, Women Speak is partnering with the Athena Program at Harvard, several girls’ and women’s non-profits in Boston, and the Boston Mayor’s Office to organize and host a conference on gender and identity for high school students to be held in May 2016.
Pushing forward in her struggle for greater empowerment for women, Lim parlayed a freshman sociology research project in a massive, two-year collaboration with the Boston’s Mayor Office, Harvard Institute of Politics, and Boston Foundation. She is lead author of the first ever Report on the Status of Women and Girls in Boston in 2015 which illustrates gender disparities and issues facing women in Boston, and which serves as an important metric to increase funding for girls’ and women’s initiatives in Boston.
Lim’s dedication to public service, her efforts to make things better, and her creative thinking in addressing issues close to her heart, all speak of a unique and valuable participant in today’s world. She writes, “I believe founding Women SPEAK and leading the creation of the first Report on Women and Girls in Boston has enabled me to truly put my commitment and creativity at the forefront of my public service work. Through the Benjamin Franklin Creativity Legacy Prize, I hope to push forward a commitment towards fighting for women’s issues, many which have gone unnoticed and unaddressed for far too long, in my everyday life.”