The Junior Reporter – January 2020

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An Interview With Illana Raia

By Daisy Hampton

For my first article for The Magic Sandbox, I was lucky to interview Illana Raia, founder of Être and author of Être Girls, Who Do You Want To Be?

llana started her career as a lawyer at one of the world’s top law firms. When her daughter was little, she began introducing her to other moms who, like Illana, had great careers and served as amazing role models. This was her way of teaching her daughter that she could be anything she wanted to be. This experience inspired Illana to found Être in 2016.  Être is an organization and website that gives girls the tools they need to change the world. Illana’s book was released on the Day of the Girl, October 11, 2019 and was Amazon’s number one new release in Self Esteem Books for Teens and Young Adults!

I first had the honor to meet Illana when she visited my Girl Scout Troop a few months ago. I learned a lot then, but I learned even more when I recently had the chance to ask her 10 questions as part of my interview for The Magic Sandbox. Here’s what she told me!

Q: What made you decide to call your organization Être? 

A: The word “Être” in French means “To Be,” and I loved the idea of asking girls who they wanted to be. Not what they wanted to be yet (plenty of time to decide that), but who. What kind of girls do they want to be? Smart, strong, charitable, informed, brave…you get the idea. I liked the idea of dividing the website into 10 sections like that, so that each page could highlight a different, amazing way to be.

Q: What are some success stories of some of the girls in your club?

A: Our girls have done so many amazing things! From designing sports equipment (a heated lacrosse stick) to teaching coding in a London university (at age 11!), girls involved with Être have taken their authentic interests to new heights. Girls involved with food rescue started state-wide food pantries, Girl Scouts turned projects about social anxiety into Gold Star awards and girls seeking to reach an audience with art to writing are getting published. And the best part is, they are mentoring each other. There is an incredible group go girls called The STEAM Squad that met on social media, and now inspire and mentor other girls fascinated by STEAM. When we first interviewed them a year ago they were a small collection of girls…by the time their interview appeared in our book they had doubled in size and their locations are spanning the globe.

Q: Congratulations on the publication of Être Girls, Who Do You Want to Be? – it’s an amazing book! Can you tell me a little bit about how it got made?

A: It’s been so exciting! When Être first started I began writing monthly articles for a platform called The Huffington Post, breaking down big topics like financial confidence, political awareness and the importance of philanthropy, for girls your age. I kept on writing, kept asking girls on our Board for topic suggestions, and published in new places like Thrive Global, Ellevate and Mogul. When someone suggested compiling these articles into a book, I loved the idea but wanted to involve more girls. Soon we had incorporated quotes from 40 of the amazing women we had interviewed by email or met in person, and – my favorite part – quotes from 50 Être girls. The book came out on Day of the Girl 2019, and since then I have had a blast speaking at schools, Girl Scout meetings and visiting four cities with the Lilly Pulitzer brand! Meeting girls across the country and hearing how they’re using the advice in the book has been incredibly gratifying…and we’re already thinking about a new book so more girls can see their words and ideas in print!

Q: In your book, you say you decided to start Être because when your daughter was a middle schooler like me, she didn’t know much about your job or the jobs that other moms had. What were you proudest of about your job? It sounds pretty cool.

A: I really loved being a lawyer at a big law firm, and especially loved the people. There is something special about going to work every day and being surrounded by super smart people who are passionate about their jobs. I was proud every day to walk through the doors of that firm, and to work with (and learn from) legends in the legal world. I wanted my daughter to meet other women who felt similarly proud of their jobs, and show her up close how many different fields and options were possible.

Q: Who were your role models growing up? How did they influence you to become who you are? 

A: I had so many role models right in my own family while I was growing up – from my grandmother who was the first lawyer I knew and my father who was a top neurosurgeon, to my mother who used to take me to community protests and her best friend who started her own business to support her family. As I got older, I looked up to teachers who inspired me and even considered characters in favorite books to be role models! I think I have always been influenced most by people who are deeply passionate about what they do, because that kind of energy sets them apart in their fields and drives them to excel and induce change.

Q: In Chapter Three, you talk about being smart with money. We did a financial literacy program in my Girl Scout Troop, which was great. Where do you think girls can learn about being smart with money? 

A: A great place to start is at your own dinner table! Asking questions about basic household finances – how to budget, lease a car, or pay a mortgage – gives you insight into how money works day to day and starts important conversations with adults making those decisions! Want to know more? There are age-appropriate books on finance, awesome materials on websites like Girl Scouts, Girls, Inc and Rock The Street, Wall Street, and we’re always interviewing women in finance on Être. If girls have specific questions, they can email us and we’re happy to pose their questions directly to our money mentors out there in the finance world!

Q: I liked the quote in Chapter Seven of your book that said, “Be the girl who opens her heart, exceeds her goals, rallies her friends and makes an impact.” Can you explain that a little bit more? 

A: Thanks! That quote is about making a difference – at a young age and in a big way! I think it’s easy to underestimate girls your age when it comes to philanthropy, and I never want to do that. I want to encourage girls to find causes that really mean something to them, and then get their friends excited about it so that they can make a difference all together. Whether it’s volunteering your time, organizing a project at school or raising awareness on social media, girls in middle school can do a lot for the world around them, and you shouldn’t be afraid to try.

Q: What do you think is the most important lesson girls learn from your book?

A: To take your authentic interests seriously, and be brave enough to build on them. Anything you love – any class, hobby or activity – is worth spending time and energy on, and it doesn’t matter if you’re the only one of your friends who loves it. Take it seriously, look for experts and trust what you love. You’re not too young to be right about it.

Q: What advice would you give to girls who want to be authors like you? How about lawyers?

A: I really don’t consider myself an author (I know that sounds funny)…I just like to talk about big topics with our girls and articles were a good way to have that conversation! I think any way you find to communicate your passion with others – whether it’s through music, art or writing – you should just start! If it’s writing you love, write for the school paper or an online teen writing platform (we list a bunch on the Être site). Share your views with a local paper or enter a short story in a regional contest…you never know! Be brave enough to try…I think authors are some of the bravest people around!

As far as becoming a lawyer goes, same advice: If you love debating, join a debate, public speaking or Model UN club. Enjoy your history and language classes to the fullest, read everything about topics that interest you and – most important – ask questions. The study of law is about asking and answering questions, and, to my mind, the best lawyers are also the most curious.

Q: What is next for you? And for Être? 

A: Être will turn 4 in May, and we are truly growing up with our girls. We’re getting ready to start Lunch & Learns in different cities and are going to offer more internships for our Board members – we’re expanding fast and I need help! Finally, Être Campus is a new platform we’re planning for girls heading off to college, so they can stay in touch with the role models they met at Lunch & Learns. 2020 will be our most exciting year yet and, I predict, every great new idea will come directly from a new Être girl…like you!

About Our Reporter:

Daisy is the newest junior reporter for The Magic Sandbox.  She currently a 6th Grader in New York.  She keeps busy in school as a member of the debate team, band and chorus.  Outside of school, she is an active member of Girl Scouts and was selected to join its Girls Leadership Institute.  She also participates on a robotics team competing in the First Lego League.  Daisy also has many hobbies, including photography, writing, swimming, volleyball and softball.

Thank you Daisy for taking the time to do a wonderful interview and sharing it with us at The Magic Sandbox!  We all enjoyed learning about Être and how it inspired you!

If you would like to join Daisy as a reporter for The Magic Sandbox, contact us by emailing magicsandboxwebazine@gmail.com.  We look forward to hearing from you!