The Girlboss Foundation is so very pleased to present our latest grant recipient, Mara Binudin! Mara’s proposal for a customizable children’s book called Secret Code embodied everything we stand for: She’s challenging the status quo in a way that’s creative and fearless, and she considered her proposal from every different angle. Plus, the protagonist in the book is a total boss: she wears a pink tutu, a black leather jacket, a Jean-Michel Basquiat pin, and she saves the day. How cool is that? Read on to learn more about Mara’s project and how you can get involved:
Hey, Mara! We’re so excited about Secret Code. For our readers out there, can you describe your project in a little more detail?
Secret Code is a personalized children's book that stars your girl as a trailblazing hero in a robot story.
It's a super fun story, but it's not just about entertainment. It's about challenging stereotypes and showing diverse role models that all girls can be inspired by. Studies show that stereotypes start negatively impacting girls as young as 5 years old, and it affects their lifelong ambitions. And we all know there’s a diversity problem in a lot of industries. But you don’t suddenly wake up to be an empowered leader when you’re 30. Those values need to be cultivated young. In short, you can't be what you don't see.
So, I want to give parents and girls more options than the widely available princess stories, and to create a fun and relatable story that will inspire girls with values like bravery, problem-solving and leadership. My goal is to ignite a mindset and a passion that can lead into a fulfilling future. And even if there’s a layer about technology, these values are ubiquitous to any career, be it in the arts, business, medicine or social impact.
The way it works is you go online to order a book with your girl’s name, skin color and hairstyle, and you will receive a beautiful, classic picture book personalized with your girl as the hero. At the end of the story, parents can then turn that inspiration into action with activities to get their girl excited about technology and robotics, like coding for toys and games. By the way, if you’re in tech education for kids and interested in a partnership, hit me up! firstname.lastname@example.org
We’d love to hear more about what got you to this point. You’ve had a really successful career so far. Where did you grow up? What were some of the things that shaped your desire to create Secret Code?
I’m half French, half Filipino. I spent half of my life in the Philippines, the other half in Paris, then went to Toronto. I'm now living in New York as a digital advertising creative director. I come from a family of atheists, Christians, Muslims, but also Buddhism, Existentialism and Transcendental meditation enthusiasts. My parents always encouraged me to keep an open mind and question the status quo.
My dad introduced me to many "un-girly” things as a child, like computers, science and heavy metal. And my mom was a super feminist, but embraced her femininity. Both were bookworms and painters. So I ended up being a kid who loved art, math, Barbies and Metallica. I never felt I was either defined by my gender or race. I think it is important to try different things and avoid fitting in a box.
One day in 1995, my dad bought me a book, How to Use HTML3. It changed my life. That was it! I wanted to become a computer programmer. I never thought it was nerdy. For me, programing was COOL! You could make stuff; it was like magic. And there was this whole hacker culture back then that I loved. Like, make your magic in the anarchic underworld of Geocities.
I realized that many driven women share a common story of being exposed to activities in their childhood that influenced their aspirations. So I wanted to help parents give their girls more options that challenge stereotypes and ignite passions. And life will take it from there.
Your application and the deck you put together was so thorough and well-done, and that’s one component that really stood out for us. What was your thought process while you were putting this all together?
My background in advertising has helped in knowing how to articulate an idea based on what moves an audience. What’s a pain point in your world right now? There’s your idea! My audience was myself. “I have to buy a present for a little girl. Why aren't there any cool books that I would have liked as a kid?” I don’t mean to offend anyone—a lot of children’s books are pretty great, but many just feature cliches like cute animals, Prince Charmings and privilege; they don’t help make you strong inside and set you up for the world tomorrow. I know I’m not alone.
How will the grant help you achieve your goals?
Strangely, the grant perfectly covers the money needed to get this project off the ground! Which means I don’t need to worry about breaking even too late, and I can try to have other cool features. Like I would love to be able to personalize the parents in the book, who play a small part in the story. So you can have same-sex parents or single parents, because they never have a place in children’s books without it being the central focus. But there are so many character combinations for my hardworking illustrator, Jessika Von Innerebner, to make—it’s all time and money. The grant will help me look into investing in these progressive features.
And I also wanted to give a shout out to my partner writer Nathan Archambault and my developer Rodolfo Dengo, awesome feminist men who are raising girls to kill it :)
What’s the long-term goal for Secret Code and Radseed?
Radseed’s mission is about planting a seed in children’s minds so it can grow into a fulfilling future.
If this project resonates, I would love to continue creating inspiring solutions for children that address societal problems in an actionable way—for example, I would love to create a story that speaks about boys’ pressure of hiding their emotions and needing to “man up,” which leads to a lack of empathy and impacts the relationships they have with people around them.
You mentioned in your application that you tune into Girlboss Radio each week. What’s been your favorite episode so far?
I love the format of Girlboss Radio. It’s fun, keeps it real, and also gets serious. I super enjoyed Alexa Von Tobel (Learnvest) and Kathryn Minshew (The Muse) because they're helping Americans manage their lives better, Payal Kadaki (Classpass) and Whitney Wolfe (Bumble) because they’re such a reflection of the modern world's needs, and Jessica Williams from 2 Dope Queens because she’s just awesome.