Meet The 20-Year-Old Entrepreneur Who Is Changing The World One Girl At A Time
Ashley Olafsen has a resume many people would envy. As a Tedx Speaker, published author, HuffPost Contributor, and the co-founder of her own company, she inspires self-confidence in young girls. The kicker? She’s only 20.
This gutsy gal is on a mission to motivate girls to overcome obstacles, value themselves, and become empowered leaders. These days you can find her at UMass Amherst, where she makes waves as an up and coming junior with her own business.
Ashley’s second book, Life Hacks with Ash, hit virtual shelves just last week and is a handbook for fellow young hustlers who are looking to create their own opportunities. We got the effervescent entrepreneur and college student to pencil us into her busy schedule and give us some insight into the secret sauce to her success.
I think I got exhausted reading your bio. You are quite an accomplished young lady. Where did all this motivation and drive come from? Was there a pivotal point in your life you think created this hunger to help other young women?
Thank you so much! I actually think that my hunger came from an accumulation of anger, followed by a moment of crystal clear confirmation. By age 15, I had seen far too much struggling from my friends and I, and that made me really angry. I was so upset that we were in abusive relationships, that we were in a really tough place with our mental health, and that we literally could not even BEGIN to understand our self-worth and value. It felt like we were surrounded by silent darkness, and no one was doing anything (despite the fact that the issues we were dealing with were serious!) so I decided that I would do something.
I teamed up with three friends and gave the first workshop — expecting that it would be the only one. Afterwards, though, I had something that can only be described as a “God moment.” It was a moment of comfort and understanding…understanding that I NEEDED to continue giving workshops, because it was what God intended me to do and what He had sent me to do. So that moment of clarity had me realizing my initial life’s purpose, and after I realized my purpose, it became a call to action from God himself that I couldn’t abandon.
But more than that, the motivation and drive comes from a place of love and compassion. I think that the way we treat young women to hate their bodies is absolutely unacceptable. I mean, I think it’s really just wholeheartedly awful. And the way that we limit girls confidence in themselves devastates me, and in this way, I feel like…how can I NOT do something about it? You know?
Like, I can’t just sit there and watch captivating, brilliant, and intelligent girls hate themselves because the world has lied to them! Also, love motivates me in other ways too…the MOVE girls that I work with keep me motivated. I care a lot about them, and I just want the best world possible for them. So I’ll fight in whatever way I need to make that happen.
This is your second book but your first, which you wrote just last year (because apparently going to college full-time just isn’t keeping you busy enough), really focused on body image and self-esteem for girls. This one is quite a departure from that? Or is it?
Haha yes, really great question…This is definitely a huge departure from the first one. Survival of the Prettiest was extremely research-based and also emphasized the importance of many voices, which is why I had so many guest writers.
Life Hacks with Ash, though, was a much simpler writing process. The whole book is a reflection on my personal experiences with leadership and entrepreneurial ventures, so there was no research involved. Also, it’s a third of the size of Survival of the Prettiest, so I felt that it was a much quicker process.
That being stated, they are similar as both are books that I could have used when I was younger. Survival of the Prettiest I really needed while I was growing up and struggling with body image, mental health, and more. Life Hacks with Ash I could have used when I first started MOVE.
In addition to being a published author and an accomplished speaker, you’ve actually co-founded an organization called MOVE. It sounds like it keeps you quite busy in the summers. Tell me more about what MOVE does.
Yes! So MOVE is the organization that I co-founded with my best friend Lexie, and it stands for Motivate. Overcome. Value. Empower…. Through MOVE, Lexie and I give workshops and run summer programs on issues like body image, media, self-esteem, relationships, and more. The summer program is the happiest part of my entire summer and I feel so grateful to be part of the MOVE community. This is our third year running the summer program, and we have just under 100 girls signed up! MOVE has saved me in so many ways and is an organization that works to empower all women to reach their fullest potential.
So what do you think is the most important thing we can do as a society to empower young women? In your work with young girls, what do you see as the most troubling trend that we need to focus on?
Hmm… This is such a tricky question.
I do think that one of the most important things we can do to support young girls is to normalize different ways of being female through representation. In other words, positive female representation of ALL females could not be more critical.
Girls face a lot of pressure to look and act in a certain way. And for some girls it’s impossible, and for everyone else it’s exhausting. Regardless, it’s both ridiculous and unfair to expect one kind of female when all females look and act differently. And I believe that every female, regardless of skin color, sexuality, etc. deserves to feel comfortable in her own skin. And this can be accomplished, or at least partially, with representing all females as valid and worthy of love and connection.
I read that you’re designing your own major at UMass Amherst. That’s some serious entrepreneurial spirit in action! What inspired you to do that?
I actually always wanted to design my own major, ever since I was in high school! It was a hugely important factor for me, when considering colleges because a one-track path has never felt appropriate for me. I really like that at UMass Amherst, I have the option to truly customize and make the most out of my academic experience. I’m also double-majoring in Political Science, and I love that I’m able to explore so many of my passions and pull from so many fields. Seriously the best place ever.
You’ve probably heard the future is female. Do you believe that?
I have heard that! In thinking about the future, I alternate between feelings of discouragement and excitement. But, I do ultimately believe that the future will be inclusive more than anything else. And that thought excites me so much.
I so believe in the power of collaboration, and I believe that we are at our best when we are together. I mean — I know that we’re our best when we work together…I have been privileged enough to work on my best projects, like MOVE, alongside my best friends. And I just can’t wait for all of us to have the ability to bring our absolute everything to the table. So, I believe that the future will be inclusive. And not only do I believe it, but I’m going to fight hard for it.