The Jane the Virgin star shares the exclusive scoop on her inspiring partnership

By Jackie Fields
Updated July 07, 2016 12:08 AM

For Gina Rodriguez’s latest role, the Jane the Virgin star is stepping in front of the camera to get personal. Partnering with Clinique for the brand’s new global campaign, Difference Maker, the 31-year-old actress is opening up about the challenges she faced growing up in hopes of helping others — and inspiring them to create positive change in their communities.

“I’ve known that I wanted to help create change with my art, since I was like 17 or 18 and went to NYU,” she shared. “Now I am 31 years old. I have been working at this for a very long time, so when Clinique came to me with this campaign, I legitimately was in tears thinking about all the efforts that I made leading up to this point. To be a part of a movement because of your heart, because of your ambition, it’s an honor.”

In a heartfelt video, Rodriguez explains that in the “gang-infested” Chicago area where she was raised, “the belief was this is it, this is it. This is the neighborhood I grew up in, this is the neighborhood I am gonna die in. As a result of that, kids got caught up in a cycle of can’t and won’t.”

But thanks to her parents, who make an appearance in emotional clip, Rodriguez says unlike others, she had the “unfair advantage” of knowing that education is the key to success –and now she wants to share that knowledge with others.

“It pains me because I feel really lucky and thank God I had giants around me to stop that view of life, otherwise my life wouldn’t look as beautiful as it is today. I don’t want to be the only one living that though. What do you do? You go back, and you change it. I go and I talk to high school students, grammar school students, I go to universities and talk. We need people to say, ‘listen, I know what you’re going through, I know what you went through. I went through it too, and it sucks.’ Education is the only way to get out. It’s about confidence and self-worth. You can, and you will.”

Courtesy Clinique

Rodriguez’s goal, to “turn education into empowerment” is the her life’s purpose, she told PeopleStyle exclusively. “I think the sexiest part of a woman is her brain. There is so much power in having education. Beauty will fade, they can take away your money, you can get fired from a job, but your education is what’s going to help you succeed.”

And she feels strongly that you don’t have to be a TV star, or even have a huge number of followers on social media to make a lasting positive impact. “All of us are capable of being difference makers. All of us have that power. It’s the small stuff that makes the great amount of change. Our voices are so powerful, and I think that’s something we can start giving to our youth.”

Courtesy Clinique

Rodriguez is one of six inspirational women Clinique is teaming with to make a change around the world. The participants are also supporting charities as part of the brand’s philanthropic platform, The Clinique Difference Initiative, which supports education and healthcare for women. Additionally it’s inciting conversation by using the hashtag #DifferenceMaker on social media.

Said Clinique’s Global Brand President Jane Lauder in a statement: “With this campaign, we aim to inspire confidence, and empower women to believe that they too, can make a difference.”

For more on Gina’s empowering partnership, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands everywhere Friday!

Will you join the Difference Maker conversation? Share below!

— Jackie Fields