Rachita Saraogi and Rebecca Thomson are the founders of Sisterhood, a creative social action programme for teenage girls, and one of three SMEs to win a TV advertisement worth over £150,000. They explain how they’re seeking to minimise the negative effect of the pandemic on access to creative educational and vocational opportunities for girls.
Last updated: 18 Mar 2021 5 min read
Rachita Saraogi and Rebecca Thomson founded Sisterhood in 2015 shortly after graduating in Design and Visual Communications from London art school Central St Martins. “It started as more of a research project,” explains Thomson. “Our degree course was made up of roughly 70% women, but we realised this ratio was completely unrepresentative of the number of women actually working in the design industry. So we started to look into the gender disparities not just within the creative field, but across many other industries.”
The team wanted to tackle the external and internal factors that can prevent young women from entering into their desired fields. Driven by a belief in the power of creative projects to fuel social change, they began working with schools and after-school clubs to deliver a programme to creatively engage girls aged 13 to 17.
“We say that Sisterhood is where all our young women and girls can design their place in the world,” Saraogi says. “We want to give girls the creative tools and confidence to bring their ideas to life, and help them tackle issues that directly affect their everyday lives, whether that’s body image and representation of young girls in the media, online safety, or public sexual harassment. The projects then focus on creating a solution to these issues that will not only make their own lives better, but will have a ripple effect for their wider community.”
Over a minimum programme length of 15 weeks, groups are taken from a discovery and planning process all the way through to the creation of a minimum viable product, whether that be a documentary film, book or any other creative endeavour. “Each part of the programme involves key tasks from prototyping to pitching, to applying creative problem-solving – which help the girls develop transferable skills to take forward into any field they choose,” says Thomson.
When the team entered NatWest’s competition to win a professionally produced TV advert, it was this act of putting young women at the heart of creative decision-making processes that Saraogi and Thomson said made their business extraordinary. Saraogi says they were “blown away” when they heard they’d been selected as winners. “It was such a great thing to come into 2021 with and we’re beyond excited.”
Like so many businesses, Sisterhood was faced with hard challenges in 2020, including pivoting its programmes to be delivered online while contending with the wider disruption to education. “Schools – rightly so – have had to focus on the most immediate needs of their students, which means that opportunities like our programme have really had to take a back seat,” says Saraogi. “And the knock-on effect of the pandemic on girls’ education in particular is devastating. Some estimates are saying that 11 million girls across the globe might not go back to school because of the pandemic.”
“We’re hoping that the advert will help turn our warm leads into action, open up funding avenues, and introduce us to new people that can help us fulfil our growth ambitions, not just in the UK, but beyond” Rebecca Thomson, co-founder, Sisterhood
This is partly why the team have relished the opportunity that pivoting online has given them to reach a wider audience. “An ultimate goal for us was to help broaden access to creative opportunities to all areas of the UK rather than being limited to cities,” says Thomson. She and Saraogi hope that having a professionally produced advert aired on ITV will help them take their network to the next level. “We really want to help minimise the negative effect of the pandemic on the gender gap,” says Thomson. “We’re hoping that the advert will help turn our warm leads into action, open up funding avenues, and introduce us to new people that can help us fulfil our growth ambitions, not just in the UK, but beyond.”
As designers themselves, Saraogi and Thomson are keen to work directly with the team at creative agency Pablo to develop an ad that is an honest representation of Sisterhood’s mission. “The ideas that Pablo have brought to the table have been so inspiring – the first script we read made us both cry!” says Saraogi.
The pair have ambitions to be “the creative education equivalent of Girl Guides”, helping girls across and beyond the UK to find their creative confidence and use that to create a world in which they can thrive. As well as scaling the business, future plans will include a greater focus on improving access to digital technology. “The pandemic has highlighted inequalities of access,” says Thomson, “and this access is so important not just in immediately facilitating schoolwork but also in building up essential skills for the workplace which will be even more sought after in the future. We want to help our girls, and all children, get the access they need.”
But the long-term ambitions of the business are very simple, says Thomson: “We aren’t just looking at immediate gains; the focus is on long-term impact. We simply want to be here, and be here for good.”