Oluwakemi Dauda, a 20-year-old University of Michigan student, isn’t easily satisfied. When she noticed that her high school was lacking teachers and resources, so much so that the ceiling was rotting away, she took matters into her own hands and registered for a computer application class and sought support from non-profit education organization NAF to supplement her education. 

That led her to create Steps to Success, an educational app for young children with severe literacy issues in Detroit. When she launched the tool in 2015, 50% of adults in Detroit were considered “functionally illiterate.” 

Dauda is one of 10 women from around the world featured in New Realities, a series of films highlighting young female leaders making a difference in their communities. Backed by award-winning filmmaker Ava DuVernay and her film collective Array, as well as Lenovo and the United Nations’ Girl Up initiative, the films were directed by virtual reality creator and director Mary Matheson, who used VR technology to give audiences a more intimate look into these women’s lives. They are streaming for free on Lenovo’s website beginning Thursday, just ahead of International Day Of The Girl on October 11.

“I want girls to see themselves in us and be able to find their voices in our films,” says Dauda. “If you can’t see yourself somewhere, your likelihood of trying to get there is not going to be high.” 

New Realities chronicles Dauda’s experience founding Steps to Success and later Bringing Hope Back Home, a nonprofit organization that prepares underrepresented high school students for college. 

The film has the power to make a big impact—and Lenovo has the data prove it. According to its “New Realities: Empathy and Technology” report, 73% of global respondents said they believe technological advancements positively influence young people’s engagement with major societal issues. Amid Covid-19, tech has also made people more empathetic toward different points of view, the report found. 

Technology has its downsides too, notes DuVernay. “There’s a lot of propaganda, and getting lost in that are our young women and girls, and how they’re seeing the world. This [film] means being able to turn up the volume on voices that need to be heard, that may not be the ones that are automatically at the microphone.” 

That’s been a big effort of DuVernay’s since she launched Array in 2010, but working on this film has given her the global reach she’s been wanting. Through Array, she was able to pair the 10 young women with mentors to continue amplifying their voices beyond the film. 

“Your journey doesn’t end when you launch pictures,” says DuVernay. “You’ve got to continue to think about how to connect your film with audiences and to continue your craft.”

Lenovo and Girl Up want to continue their support, too, giving $100,000 in grants to the 10 featured women, as well as other up and comers. 

Dauda is still catching her breath. But like her New Realities counterparts, she’s just getting started.

“It took awhile for me to see my own potential,” says Dauda. “But I can make that easier for someone else.”

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