For as long as she can remember, Brita Fernandez Schmidt has been committed to making a difference. Her mission? To work against inequality so that women can reach their full potential.
Having served as the Executive Director of Women for Women International (UK), a nonprofit organization helping women survivors of war, for ten years, Brita is a true advocate of women’s empowerment, women’s rights, and equality.
As Brita believes that every woman has a fierce power to fulfill her dream, she now coaches women to help them transform their lives. Her first book “Fears to Fierce” has just been published.
We talked with Brita Fernandez Schmidt about the power of purpose and creating meaningful change for women around the world.
- You spent 25 years championing women's rights across the world. Where and when did your journey start?
At the age of 15, I moved with my family to Venezuela, where I witnessed extreme poverty and inequality and how it disproportionately affects women – 70% of the poorest people in the world are women. This experience ignited a passion within me to do what I can to support the drive for greater equality and the upholding of women's human rights.
- Why do you believe in the power of purpose?
The definition of purpose for me means being driven by something that is larger than you, in aid of something that is larger than you. It gives your life meaning. When I feel fear, I remind myself of my purpose, and it propels me forward to overcome my fear and tap into the power that resides within me to create the change that my purpose is calling for.
- What motivates you every day?
Every day is an opportunity to grow, to step further into my power. And with every deepening of my power, I grow my ability to serve my purpose and create the change I want to see in the world. That is deeply motivating to me.
- Which women inspire you?
This is hands down the hardest question to answer because women inspire me full stop. Every day women inspire me all over the world because despite the enormous challenges, discrimination, violence, and abuse simply because of their gender, women are rising, stepping into their power to change the world around them for the better, not just for them, but for all of humanity. Women human rights defenders and journalists in Afghanistan inspire me with their courage and bravery. Mothers in Syria demanding to know where their families were disappeared to inspire me. My daughters inspire me as they navigate the challenges of being a young woman in this hyper-connected society. My mum, who is just recovering from serious cancer, inspires me with her determination. Women are magnificent, and we need to celebrate this every day and lift each other up.
I always say: "As I witness another woman's rising, she gives me wings."
- What is the one thing we would need to change or do in the future to push women forward? What is the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge is that there isn't just one challenge. There is no silver bullet. The biggest challenge is that we know exactly what we need to do, but we are not allocating enough resources and space to acting on what we know. We know that when women are part of decision-making, change happens, and everyone benefits. Above all, we need commitment to changing our mindset and our actions – this starts at the individual level and then needs to be translated at the communal/institutional level.
- What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
The most rewarding aspect is seeing the transformation of women and how that leads to wider changes at the societal level. Seeing women rise out of fear and trauma to claim their inherent power and wisdom, that is the greatest joy. And this goes for the women I have been working with through the various roles I have held in organizations like Women for Women International as well as my coaching clients.
- If you had one piece of advice for other women, what would it be?
Know that you are more powerful than you think and allow yourself to dream.
- In your career, you always emphasized the meaning of personal relations rather than just practical support. Can you explain to us why this is important to you?
In everything I have done, at the heart of any 'success' have been personal relationships. Seeing the trainers in countries like Afghanistan, Congo, Rwanda, Iraq work with women, I know that the practical information and the financial support they are given are hugely impactful, but witnessing the love and care and the connection that is established, I realized that the knowledge that you are loved is more powerful than anything else.
This is also true for the work I have done with brands and celebrity ambassadors. It has never just been a business transaction, it has always been a connection driven by a deep love for our shared purpose.
- In your recently published book, you share stories from the women you met through your work. Which one inspired you the most?
In my book, I talk about the boardroom in my heart, where I have a space for all the inspiring humans whose stories have touched me deeply. It is hard to choose one. Beatrice is a woman who I think of often. She was a young girl when I met her in Ethiopia, and her traumatic story of child marriage, FGM and sexual abuse moved me deeply and has stayed with me because it has taught me that even after trauma of this proportion, there is always a spark of hope. You just have to find it.
- What next projects are you working on?
I am designing a 12 week programme based on my book Fears to Fierce which I will be announcing later this autumn and will launch in January – ready for the new year, for anyone who desires to step further into their power, find their purpose and create the change they want to see.
- You are an amazing woman of purpose. Women give a lot of themselves and often forget to recharge. What do you do to refuel yourself?
Recharging is so important, and it has taken me a long time to realise this. I have a whole chapter about Care in my book because I am now passionate about encouraging other women to create their own care programme. I always go for a walk or run in nature every day, recently I have started wild swimming, and I love it. I also do yoga, and I meditate regularly. Silence brings me the greatest peace.