“I can’t list all the girls that I’m inspired by, but I wish I could. If I had 24 hours, I could probably list half of them,” said Linh Nguyen. Nguyen, a U of T student, is part of Girl Up Canada, an organization aimed at inspiring young girls to become powerful changemakers in their communities.

Girl Up Canada recently partnered with Hershey’s Canada for its #HerForShe campaign, which aims to make International Women’s Day a little sweeter by empowering the next generation of women leaders. As a steering committee member of the Girl Up Canada alumni group, Nguyen was part of developing this campaign to spread a message she cares deeply about.

Nguyen’s journey with Girl Up

Nguyen, who is currently in her fourth year studying political science at U of T, has never felt truly connected to the campus community. 

“When I was first starting at U of T, I was pretty shy, and I was actually pretty insecure,” she said. She recalled feeling intimidated by the intelligence of her peers, and a sense of imposter syndrome discouraged her from getting involved with campus life.

During the pandemic, Nguyen discovered a posting to join Girl Up Ontario on Facebook, at a time when the organization was just beginning to develop its Canadian presence. Nguyen saw this as an opportunity to step outside her comfort zone and to take a leap of faith, in hopes of finding a place she could really fit in.

“I really feel like I just lost my way during the pandemic,” she explained. She noted that, while she was actively involved with her community in high school, that involvement declined with the isolation caused by COVID-19. Girl Up was a chance for her to emerge from her shell.

By being involved with the organization — first as Girl Up Ontario’s director of events, then as Girl Up Canada’s outreach director, and now as a steering committee member — Nguyen feels like she’s become a more confident leader. “It was just a matter of finding that group of people that I felt really comfortable [with],” she explained.

To this day, she still keeps in touch with many of the team members she has worked with; the relationships she formed from Girl Up have evidently left a substantial impact on her life. “I can’t tell you how many incredible women I have met who not only inspired me, but also encouraged me and helped me out,” she added.

The #HerForShe campaign

Given the amount of time she has spent with Girl Up, Nguyen was incredibly excited by the recent #HerForShe campaign in collaboration with Hershey’s Canada. As part of the campaign, the chocolate company created five exclusive chocolate bar wrappers featuring five Canadian women who have made an impact on the world around them — from breaking down barriers through skateboarding to sustainability through fashion design.

Nguyen appreciates the creative control that Hershey’s gave her and the Girl Up team. She was trusted with designing the campaign’s message and essentially given free rein over creating social media posts, including producing a video featuring some Girl Up girls she has been personally inspired by.

“I love that they reached out to the community to spread this message,” she said. Nguyen also appreciates that the campaign focused not just on telling the stories of famous women already known to the world, but by really engaging with local communities in Canada and telling their stories. By being involved with this project, she’s been exposed and reintroduced to a number of women that inspire her, and she’s been reminded of just how powerful a community of women can be.

For Nguyen, part of what’s so powerful about this campaign is how it starts to bridge the disconnect between corporations and communities. She recalled her shock at learning about the collaboration with Hershey’s, given the brand’s widely recognized name. However, her experience with the company throughout the process of creating #HerForShe was collaborative and supportive. Hershey’s, she said, gave her “the opportunity to really share ideas and talk.”

Nguyen loves how Hershey’s partnership with Girl Up helps girls feel like their voices are important and being heard, spreading a message she hopes will continue to be featured year-round. “I think at the end of the day, it’s just about uplifting other women,” she said.