One cannot help but feel thoroughly inspired and impressed in talking to Salma Murphy about her global nonprofit GirlsGiveBack. She has created a platform where girls push each other to be leaders and pursue projects unique to their community while connecting with other young women all across the world. In barely a year, this platform has grown to have chapters in multiple states and nine countries. GirlsGiveBack community meetings have over 40 attendees, with both young women and men having conversations about how to be allies for women, the community, and the world at large. Soon they will be having a global conference on Saturday, August 14.
And she did this all while still in high school! Salma is truly an EXTRAordinary young woman.
As a sophomore, Salma felt she had no direction. She wanted to reach her potential but as a first-generation Moroccan-Irish, low-income, Muslim, she did not feel like she had options. She knew that she was not the only girl who felt this way. Then one day in February 2020, she decided to take the lead on a project in physics class. Even if physics itself was not her strong point, she saw ways to make the project more efficient. The boys on her team did not agree, stating to her face, "Girls like you can't do anything."
She remembers feeling defeated and discarded, however, while sitting back, she realized how much this happened not only in her school but in her community in Boston. Salma changed the narrative from that of scarcity to opportunity. She could build a support system for herself and other girls in her community. That is where the idea for GirlsGiveBack came from, to empower women to push each other to their full potential. "Girls are constantly told they can't be leaders — and they can," she said.
With the encouragement of friends, Salma started pouring her ideas into a notebook. GirlsGiveBack's first projects centered around the Boston community and included a feminine hygiene drive. For Salma, this was special because it was not only people within the community donating time and supplies for the community, but because it is where the conversations about bigger issues began. Salma talked to girls about their experiences as young women. They talked about women’s health disparities on a global level. "So even before we became global, we were talking about global issues," she said. Considering the bigger "why" of why they were doing this fueled the narrative of new projects. Soon, girls from all over the state started reaching out asking about how to be involved in her projects.
A friend connected her to girls in Tampa, Florida, to open up a chapter, then in Miami, Pennsylvania, and Colorado.
GirlsGiveBack’s first international chapter was formed in Morocco. Her mom pushed Salma to use the skills she already had to bridge this connection saying, “You're gonna reach out to someone and you're gonna do it in Arabic.” Despite this challenge, Salma tirelessly reached out to girls about the message of GirlsGiveBack eventually finding a group of young women interested in creating opportunities for education for girls. “I just met really incredible girls there, and had really, really incredible conversations with them over the phone, over WhatsApp," she said. The chapter meets women in cafes Monday through Friday to teach them math and literacy skills. “These girls are doing that with no funding," she said. "It is incredible to watch them do this incredible work.” Again, a narrative of the bigger picture came into play. “Even though I am Moroccan, I will never know what it is like to grow up in Morocco,” Salma said. “There are so many issues you would never know if you didn’t talk to them about the intricacies of their community."
It became clear that each chapter would not only carry out projects unique to its community, but also serve the bigger platform of teaching each other about what it is like for girls all over the world.
For Salma, starting these chapters is the most exciting part. She gets to learn about girls' passions, and be part of a larger support system. She watches international text conversations start, as girls from around the world boost each other’s confidence.
“Every girl has the potential to start something, they just don’t always have a platform," she said.
Something that struck us throughout this interview is the regard with which Salma talks about the work of all of the girls involved with her platform. GirlsGiveBack was started by her, but it is about everyone. She is truly a woman who supports other women, recognizing their talent and pushing them to succeed.
When we asked Salma what she sees for her life, she quickly states “Congress.” “I want to be that girl and woman for other girls, be the girl I didn't get to see growing up,” she said. “Insert my voice no matter what. Be a loud voice in an even louder room.”
It was truly an honor to be able to talk with Salma and we at the Mayor’s Office for Women’s Advancement are excited to see where her career will go.
This piece was written by Katie Marcincuk, Policy Fellow for the Mayor's Office of Women's Advancement. Do you know an EXTRAordinary woman in Boston? You can nominate them through our online form.