Payton McGriff’s has had a whirlwind of a 2017. Several months ago, she was a senior at the University of Idaho. But when opportunity presented itself, she didn’t hesitate to jump with both feet, and now she’s leading SHE (Style Her Empowered), a social enterprise that’s gaining traction educating and empowering young women in the African country of Togo.
What’s the dent you’re trying to make in the universe?
I’m working to empower as many women as I can. In my opinion, empowerment is synonymous with self-determination, so my goal in starting SHE is to empower women and girls with the necessary resources, skillset, and confidence to obtain an education and determine their own future. When we are educated and empowered, women are unstoppable.
What life lessons did you learn from your mother and father?
“In the great pool of life, there’s always going to be a little pee.” My mom has always collected “hillbilly homilies” as she refers to them. While she’s inspired me in so many ways and always encouraged my creativity, her sense of humor is her best quality. She reminds me not to take myself too seriously.
My dad is a total go-getter. Volunteering for his organization that celebrates diversity in southeastern Idaho introduced me to community service. He’s shown me how to be unapologetically myself and to believe I can accomplish anything I imagine with a lot of hard work and some fabulous shoes.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
That must’ve changed every week, but probably a cake taste tester.
You started SHE earlier this year during your last semester of college and it has really accelerated. What’s it feel like so far?
As cheesy as it might be, it feels empowering. I never imagined I’d get this level of support for my business, or be able to follow my passions full-time at this stage of my life. So I’ve been humbled by the fact that I underestimated my capabilities when I’m in the business of encouraging young girls to do the opposite. I’m learning A LOT.
How did the idea for empowering young women in Africa through school uniforms arise?
I read the book, Half the Sky, a couple years ago, and buried in a small paragraph in the middle of the book is a story of a doctor in Africa who was struggling to keep girls in school. He tried several different programs over the years but found that providing a free, well-tailored uniform was the most effective motivation. That’s when I started researching all of the barriers girls face in gaining their education and found that in many cases, a school uniform is the most expensive part of going to school.
Why did you choose Togo for your work?
Luckily enough, the executive director of the Togolese NGO we partner with, ICPSD, is a professor at the University of Idaho. I pitched SHE to him on March 3rd this year, and left for my first research trip to Togo 13 days later.
Togo is also the perfect launchpad for SHE. It’s the perfect combination of need and potential. Togo ranks very low on the Human Development Index, but the government has reduced tuition rates for girls to incentivize education, the majority of entrepreneurs are female, and they are very welcoming to new programs for girls’ education.
Can you tell us about the revenue model for your social enterprise?
We teach girls to sew their own school uniforms as part of an after-school program. So during the day, we have local seamstresses sewing additional uniforms that we sell to schools in the U.S. that require school uniforms. We’ve placed emphasis on an earned-revenue model to increase our impact in Togo.
You’ve won funding in several startup competitions—what’s the key to your success?
Stories. At every competition, I share a story of Elolo, a girl I met on my first trip to Togo. I talk about her daily life and the challenges she will face in gaining her education. These stories and pictures connect people to a life they’ve never experienced, and I think that’s what has gained so much support for SHE.
Why did you choose to operate your social enterprise as a nonprofit rather than as a private company?
Honestly, I’m still deciding what corporate structure we will operate our social enterprise under. I’ve been leaning towards a private company to increase the sustainability of our impact in Togo.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
Avocado and egg toast. For the last 10 days.
What is your secret vice?
Chocolate lava cake. I don’t know if that’s much of a secret though.
Who inspires you?
So many people, but the person who has influenced my perspective most is my philosophy professor and good friend, Jay Feldman. His humility, honesty, and humor keep me grounded, and he has shown me how to practice compassion and understanding for others.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’d be less forgetful. I want to remember the names and stories of the people I meet so I can remember all of the ways they’ve impacted my life.
What are you reading right now?
Rise Up by Russ Stoddard. (That coincidence made me laugh a bit.)
Podcasts mostly. I’m a fan of TED talks, Stuff You Should Know, and Revisionist History.
The Office (for the 3rd time).
Rock, paper, or scissors?
Rock. They say paper beats rock, but I’ve never really believed it.
Forest green. I think it’s because I love trees and greenery, but it changes all the time.
What’s one question you’d like to ask yourself – and answer?
What advice would you give yourself in 10 years?
1. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
2. Stop sweating the small things.
3. Intentions matter, don’t lose sight of WHY you’re doing what you’re doing.
4. You don’t stop playing because you get old; you get old because you stop playing.
How should people connect with you on social?