This week on the #MYCHARITY series, we speak to Brita Fernandez Schmidt, Executive Director at Women for Women International – UK, a charity organisation helping women survivors of war rebuild their lives.
Location: London, UK
Current job: Executive Director
One word that best describes how you work: Inspiring
Your biggest success: Raising money to support Yezidi women, survivors of sexual violence after the 2014 Sinjar massacre in Northern Iraq
Your greatest fear: Allow fear to keep me from pursuing my dreams
Your role model: I don‘t really like the notion of role models. I want us to strive to be our best selves. Instead, I love inspiring women, who inspire me to be my best self. Many of these women are women who have survived conflict and adversity who I have had the honour of meeting through my work at Women for Women International
Your favourite food: Any type of salad with sweet potatoes fries
Your life dream: Inspire women to turn their fears to fierce
When I was 14, I moved with my family from Germany to Venezuela and I saw poverty and its impact for the first time. I saw how it proportionately affects women and it ignited a passion within me to do what I can to promote equality and support women all over the world to know their power and uncover their potential. I did a MA in Women’s Studies 25 years ago and decided to work in the not for profit sector, as I saw it as the best fit to realise my purpose. For the past 12 years, I have been working with Women for Women International.
And I am excited to say that I have just finished writing my first book, which is a personal book that focuses on what I have learned about finding meaning, owning your power and transforming your world. It is called Fears to Fierce and is coming out in January 2021 and can be pre-ordered here.
Women for Women International is a successful organization because it has staff who are experienced professionals and who care deeply, whether that is in the fundraising offices or in the offices in the countries where we operate our programme. Another reason for our success is our commitment to ongoing learning. We are never complacent, we always ask questions, we always want to know what is working and what is not working. We care deeply about the lasting impact of our work and we don’t shy away from changing track and, importantly, we innovate. We have adopted a permanent start-up mentality which has served us well.
After three days of despair, once we had gone into lockdown, we decided that we needed to stop imagining every worst-case scenario under the sun and that we needed to start thinking about: WHAT CAN WE DO? Once we did that, everything shifted. That is the power of good questions, as soon as we started to ask this, answers came flooding in and within 5 weeks we had taken our biggest flagship event – our annual car boot sale – online; which in May raised £77,000. So my lessons learned is: pivot fast, focus on what you can do, fail fast, and don‘t wait to be ready.
I cannot speak for the whole sector, and I think many of the trends we are seeing are true for the wider world – a drive to digital, working from home etc.
One thing I would like to highlight that has struck me is that NOT giving in to despair has been key – bringing new ideas and initiatives even in these times has been vital to our work and much welcomed by our supporters as a sign that there is hope. So that will be very important, for our work and our supporters!
It’s all about shared values and vision! Business partners for us become our family. Whether it is Charlotte Tilbury Beauty, Net-A-Porter or Monica Vinader, everyone no matter where within the business buys fully into our partnership and that is at the heart of our successful collaborations.
It’s so hard to choose. Charlotte Tilbury Beauty, is just incredible because of the size of the commitment and impact, with their £1 million pledge they are having an enormous impact in countries like Rwanda, Nigeria and Northern Iraq. But our partnership with Net-A-Porter has also been simply inspiring – not only has it raised a lot of money but it raises such awareness around the whole world, which is invaluable and cannot be quantified.
I love running, so I do that every morning followed by yoga. And my other way to recharge is to read! I love books and I read all the time.
The best question you could possibly ask me! Ok, so I always read several books all at once. Currently, I am reading What we’re told not to talk about by Nimko Ali; Women don’t owe you pretty by Florence Given, The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off by Gloria Steinem; Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad; Recollections of my Nonexistence by Rebecca Solnit.
Shine Bright, Breathe and Let go! #FearsToFierce
We love to interview charity’s leaders and listen about their work and their way to create great partnerships. If you want to learn more if the Purpose-Cause match is effective and well-communicated check out how we can help.