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Girls Inc. She Votes: Meet Maya

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Maya the Mobilizer

Twenty-four-year-old Maya Enista doesn’t just talk the talk—as CEO of she walks the walk. When she was just 17, she registered thousands of people to vote as an intern for MTV’s Rock the Vote project, and she can remember how exciting it was for her to register to vote when she turned 18.

Now she’s running the show at, a national organization that helps young people aged 16 to 30 register to vote and empowers them to get more involved in politics.

She credits her passion for civic engagement to her parents, who fled the once-Communist country of Romania so that Maya and her brother could one day have the right to vote and contribute to a democratic political system like we have in the United States and Canada.

Describe your work with What are some projects girls should know about?

We were founded six years ago on the campus of University of California, Berkeley. We work with young people, aged 16 to 30, to increase their interest in civic engagement and get them involved in politics. We work to empower young people to realize the change that they can make in their communities, on their campuses, and in the larger country as well. starts reaching out to people at 16, which is below the legal voting age. What’s significant about this age?

Statistics show that if you vote for the first time when you’re 18 and then vote in three elections, you become a lifetime voter. In order to really understand the voting process, why it is important to vote, and the details of voting, like how and when to vote, or how to register to vote, it’s really important to start talking to young people before they turn 18 so that they’re prepared.

I looked forward to my eighteenth birthday so that I could register to vote.

Define the word “grassroots” for girls who might have never heard the term before. What does it mean to you?

Grassroots is engaging your community towards the common good. For example, if you’re a young woman working on voter registration, it’s important to always have a voter registration form and to always be asking people if they’re registered to vote. Grassroots is your ability to not only involve just one specific group of people, but to reach out to everyone you know—everyone you can see—and involve them in the great work that you are doing.

How is the significant role the internet plays in our lives changing the definition of the word grassroots?

The definition of community changes online; instead of my community being the people who I live in a dorm with or the people I live next door to, it’s now the people who are my friends on Facebook or MySpace, or people who are in a group with me on Facebook.  I think social networks allow us to reach out to many more people in a more efficient way.

What tips can you offer girls who want to do similar work – how can they get started?

Look for internships and volunteer opportunities with organizations that you respect. Just email them and say, “Hey, I really respect the work that you do. I’m interested in the mission of your organization. Is there a way I can get more involved?” The first couple of volunteer jobs that I had were literally licking envelopes for a candidate in New York. Get involved in any way that you can.

One of the most important things that I learned is just to ask questions. If there’s someone whose job looks awesome to you, ask them how they got there.

 If there’s an event that you really want to go to, ask your parents if they’ll take you.

What have some of the highlights of your career been so far?

People ask me, “Have you met tons of celebrities?” I have. And those moments haven’t made it to my top ten list.

For the past four years now, has put together annual conferences where we bring together people from all over the country to meet each other and share ideas. It’s been so inspiring to watch people who come from different backgrounds, who have been taught that one another is wrong, work through differences and build friendships that go far beyond Mobilize. We see them coming back year after year. The opportunity to bring this diverse group of people together has certainly been one of my highlights.

Women still represent fewer than 20 percent of seats in the U.S. Congress. How has the role of women in politics changed since you got involved as a teen, and how do you see it evolving in the next decade or so?

I think there’s been great progress. When I started with Rock the Vote and worked at the Center for Civic Responsibility, people always used to ask me what I was going to do when I grew up—like, what my real job was going to be. At that time, the message was, “There’s only so far that I can go in politics, and there are only so many successes that I can have.”

Now, asking me what my real job is going to be, they ask me if I’m going to run for office.  I think this is a great time to be a woman in politics.

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