Building the Next Generation of Leaders with Design Thinking by Jenna Abdou


When my little brother, Adam, and I were growing up, he used to joke that I scared people away because of how excited I was to meet them. 

While 10-year-old Jenna responded with a jab to the arm, I now realize that going in for a hug instead of a handshake is a bit over zealous. 

Although I’ve dialed down my initial enthusiasm, certain instances bring back the overwhelming childhood excitement that overrides social graces. Hence the deepened laugh lines I acquired after spending time with personal role models, Katie Kirsch, Jenna Leonardo, Rachel Chung, and Natalya Thakur, the founders of Girls Driving For a Difference.

Katie, Jenna, Rachel, and Natalya are four Stanford University students with the goal to save young girls from losing their voice. 

The team believes that teaching young girls design thinking skills will equip them with a life-long agency to solve problems. 

The most impactful part of our conversation is the principle that we should stop asking girls what they want to be when they grow up. 

Not only does the question pressure them, but also restricts them from charting an untravelled path simply because they’re being put on the spot.

The GDD team counteracts this by asking girls about the change they’d like to create in the world. 

Most importantly, Katie, Jenna, Rachel, and Natalya are empowering young women to choose their must instead of their should, in the words of Elle Luna.

Here are a few examples of what the young girls had to say. 

  • “I will use my skill in being a leader and my interest in cooking to make school lunches healthier."
  • “To furnish/re-design shelters so they can have temporary housing to ensure the safety of outdoor animals in the rain!" 
  • “I will use my skill in speaking and my interest in human rights to make people equal and fight discrimination in our world.”

The first part of the workshop is structured to enable girls to become comfortable with failure. As they engage in interactive activities, they’re encouraged to throw their hands up and laugh after they fail. 

While the founders recognize the challenge, they’re adamant that learning from your experiences is life changing. I’m excited to follow their lead. 

Rachel’s highest goal is to make it clear that you’re never too young to take action on your dreams. With this in mind, the GDD team helps each young girl devise three tangible steps to achieve their goal. 

The team has already prototyped and held nine workshops in the Bay Area and will be leaving on a cross-country road trip across the US, that they funded on Kickstarter, after Jenna, Rachel, and Natalya graduate this June. 

I can’t imagine another job feeling as fulfilling and right for me right now.

Jenna on the summer road trip being the ultimate graduation gift.

There is truly nothing about these four women that I don’t admire, and I’m incredibly eager to follow their road trip starting in the Bay Area this summer. They’ll be documenting their journey on their blog, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook if you’d like to stay up to date. 

To learn more about the team’s personal experiences using design thinking, the workshop, and the key lessons they each hope to impart to the young girls they work with tune into their episode of 33founders



Further Reading
  • How MeUndies Made Merchandising Their Competitive Advantage — When MeUndies thinks about their underwear subscription service they compare themselves to Netflix. What the streaming pioneer did for TV, the Los Angeles startup wants to do to your underwear drawer. The goal is to provide monthly subscribers with the staples they love while delivering elements of surprise - Think briefs with donuts and dinosaurs - right to your doorstep.
  • Seedling Relies on Childhood Curiosity to Inspire a Creative Team — On a recent flight home, I spent over an hour browsing a children’s play website, completely enamored by sets like Design Your Own Superhero Cape and Invent Your Own Insects. After sharing Seedling with everyone I know, despite few of my friends having children, I wondered why the brand struck a such a meaningful chord with me.
  • eero Designs Wi-Fi for the Smart Home Era — Nikhil Basu Trivedi, Principal at Shasta Ventures, recently distinguished exceptional founders by their ability to prioritize. “It all comes back to prioritization, speed, paranoia, and knowing that if you don’t iterate, even after finding product market fit, you can be disrupted by the next product,” he says.


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