In many classrooms on Day of the Girl 2020, whether in-person or online, time will be spent talking about girl power and gender equality. Global goals and glass ceilings. Leaders are highlighted and role models lauded. But what if that role model is also a barrier-breaking supermodel? And what if the classroom cheering is actually in the process of being built?

Meet Somali-American supermodel, activist and UNICEF Ambassador Halima Aden, a leader teaming up with the world’s leading coconut water brand, Vita Coco, to build classrooms, dormitories and recreational spaces for children in the Philippines and Sri Lanka lacking access to safe school environments. 

Because, what they lack is real.

After walking six hours to get to school, some students sleep on their classroom floor for the duration of the school week. One in seven of those classrooms have been deemed in major need of repair.

Enter Vita Coco, a brand with a demonstrated interest in education and deep roots in its farming communities. While the production of coconut water used to simply be a byproduct, today coconut water produces thousands of jobs, supports local industry growth and advances economies in developing regions around the world.

Leveraging that progress and seeking to make an impactful difference, the company launched the Vita Coco Project in 2014, to invest time, tools and training for over 8,000 farmers. Six years later, Vita Coco has not only raised annual product yields and farmers’ incomes, but it has raised education standards for students across the Philippines and Sri Lanka with 30 new K-12 classrooms and 80+ scholarships for top-level students.

Such progress did not go unnoticed, and in 2020 Halima Aden joined forces with the company, being named the first Chief Coconut Officer – charged with designing a new fund to build and enhance safe school spaces for children. Channeling the same creativity and energy she brings to fashion, Aden plans to use her considerable platform to amplify and elevate Vita Coco’s mission to “positively impact one million people in coconut farming communities.”

“When we first started Vita Coco,” notes Michael Kirban, CEO and Co-Founder of Vita Coco, “we were really focused on producing coconut water to fill demand, not building a social impact program. But as we became more embedded in the local communities and understood how strategic investments and learning new techniques could benefit the farmers and their families, we realized that it was our obligation to do more. I’m so excited to have Halima on board, as she not only embodies the brand but genuinely wants to help us scale our programs.”

“Now more than ever,

it’s really important to

me to partner with brands

that share my values.

Halima Aden

“After I visited the coconut farms with Vita Coco last year, and saw the work that they do firsthand and the impact it has, I knew it was an organization that I wanted to be a part of,” echoes Aden. “I personally understand what economic opportunity and education can do for a community, and I’m excited to help advance this important work.”

The difference programs like Via Coco can make, particularly when amplified by role models like Halima Aden, have the potential to change the world. They are already changing lives. Students in the farming communities touched by Via Coco are seeing results that extend beyond the classroom – educational security, safer play environments, empowered girls.

And next year on Day of the Girl 2021, when we hear new girl power discussions happening in freshly built classrooms, we will know which (super) role model to thank.

Être is a mentorship platform for motivated girls. We are grateful to Halima Aden, Vita Coco and UNICEF for the difference they are making for girls everywhere.


  • Illana Raia

    Founder & CEO


    Recently named one of the first 250 entrepreneurs on the Forbes Next 1000 List, Illana Raia is the founder and CEO of Être - a mentorship platform for girls. Believing that mentors matter as early as middle school, Illana brings girls directly into companies they select to meet female leaders face to face. The goal, as Être's French name suggests, is to help today's girls figure out who they want to be.    Named a Mogul Influencer in 2017, Illana appeared in the HuffPost "Talk To Me" video series, participated in the 2018 Balance Project Interviews and the 2019 #WomenWhoRock campaign, and has been featured on Cheddar TV and podcasts like The Other 50%, Her Money, Finding Brave and Women To Watch. Illana has authored 50+ articles for Thrive Global, HuffPost and Ms. Magazine, and her award-winning book Être: Girls, Who Do You Want To Be was released on Day of the Girl 2019. Her next book, The Epic Mentor Guide, is scheduled to arrive on International Women's Day 2022.   Prior to launching Être in 2016, Illana was a corporate attorney at Skadden, Arps in NYC and an occasional guest lecturer at Columbia University. She graduated from Smith College and the University of Chicago Law School, and remains unapologetically nerdy.