When Lisa Hinkelman tells the story of Ruling Our Experiences (ROX)—its start, its (and her) growing pains, and its growing relevance today—it sounds remarkably like a metaphor for the social enterprise universe in which her now eight-year-old nonprofit operates.
When Hinkelman formally founded ROX in 2011, she recalls that not only was there no one in the marketplace providing the kind of research and programming that ROX sought to provide, there also was no framework for the kind of social enterprise work she sought to launch.
“There was no conceptual framework for it, and there was even less historical context. Minimal education around it,” Hinkelman said. “I couldn’t just pop into a course on social enterprise at the university a couple of years ago. It wasn’t in the vernacular here.”
And that posed a dilemma, she explained, one remarkably similar to those faced by the 4,000 young ladies ROX now serves in 250 schools across the country.
“If you don’t know something exists,” she suggests, “you don’t know how you can pursue it. If you don’t see it, how do you be it?”
Now, eight years after founding ROX and 13 years after kicking off the research project that birthed the organization, ROX itself, the girls ROX serves, and the broader social enterprise community are all growing.
What started as a pilot program in three schools with 57 girls has now grown to 250 schools in 14 states and 4,000 young ladies in fifth through 12th grades. And even big plans and dreams await. ROX is pushing ahead with plans for a Research & Training Institute, on the same site as its existing corporate offices, that is scheduled for a three-year, $1.2 million buildout. The project is already underway, with corporate supporters such as Battelle, L Brands, 31 Gifts, and Alliance Data already lined up.
The new institute, Hinkelman explained, will produce original research, workshops, training, continuing education, and professional development for parents, teachers, and other adults working with school-aged girls.
This new research will augment the groundbreaking work ROX has already done. In 2017, ROX undertook The Girls Index™, surveying nearly 11,000 girls across the country and asking them about the “big stuff” in their lives. About their career plans. And about what it’s like to be a girl today. The Research & Training Institute will both augment The Girls Index™, as well as serve as an incubator and catalyst for both future research and as a catalyst for creating content, tools, and curriculum for adults with girls in their lives.
“We’re learning a ton about what it’s like to be a girl today,” Hinkelman said. “People are recognizing that girl’s lives are very different, massively different, with high stakes. They’re differently vulnerable. And one of the assumptions of ROX is that girls experience negative outcomes simply because of their gender.”
ROX aims to acknowledge and address that reality, then help put girls on a different trajectory. ROX’s role, Hinkelman believes, is to intervene at critical times, giving girls the skills they need to navigate an increasingly complex world.
Again, the parallels to the social enterprise space are striking.
Hinkelman reflects on the growing up she’s had to do as her business has grown and become increasingly complex and demanding.
“My background is as an academic and in counseling,” Hinkelman explained. “Then I’m running a nonprofit and eventually a social enterprise. It takes entirely different skills and a different mindset. It’s different language and different strategy. Each of those domains are very different and each has its own learning curve.”
Like the broader social enterprise community here in central Ohio, Hinkelman says ROX continues moving through the process of scaling and innovation.
“Scaling is wonderful,” she said. “But if you’re just scaling without innovating, someone’s going to copy what you’re doing. It’s a necessity to constantly be innovating.”
Today, 13 years after her research on girls began and nearly 10 years after the launch of ROX, Hinkelman finds herself not only innovating, but also hustling. It’s a habit she developed in the earliest days of her enterprise. She’s in schools every week with girls. She serves as a guest speaker and finds herself in constant conversations with young ladies who are trying to figure out life and school and relationships and the future. Hinkelman is growing, ROX is growing, and the girls are growing, too.
“This isn’t just this squishy, sweet, girl power,” Hinkelman said. “This has fidelity and rigor and science behind what we’re doing. We have this solid ground to stand on, and that’s … a strength.”
After years of doing research, compiling data, and working to understand the inner lives of girls, Hinkelman said the research she’s doing has become part of her. But ultimately, the foundation of ROX isn’t the research or data, it’s the relationships. It’s the girl attending Ohio University who knew how to handle sexual violence in college and returned to ROX to tell her story. It’s the young lady who just graduated from Otterbein—not only the first college grad in her family but the first high school grad—took her MCATs and is moving toward a very different future than the one her family envisioned for her.
“The relationships are the foundation,” Hinkelman said. “The investment in the relationships is more important than any other thing we do.”
For more information, visit rulingourexperiences.com.
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