Brita Fernandez-Schmidt #PiMaker - Passionate about equality and inspiring by 'being'
Brita Fernandez-Schmidt is a #PiMaker. She allows herself to 'be', gaining greater positive impact in what she does. She's passionate about equality and a firm believer that change is possible and that we can do this together, knowing that we are the change. The power is within us to create a world with greater equality and opportunities for all.
We've known Brita for quite some years, back when she was in Venezuela. Now our worlds cross ways again with the common believe that each of us has the power to positively impact this world by being and doing what we are. We are very proud of what Brita has achieved up until now. We are sure that she will walk many more miles inspiring and positively impacting the lives of many more souls.
How did you come to do what you do? What’s your personal background story?
"I have always been passionate about equality and outraged at injustice"
When you look back over your life, the journey seems much clearer than when you are in the middle of the road, experiencing life. So when I look back, I can see that I have always been passionate about equality and outraged at injustice. I remember clearly moving to Caracas, Venezuela, at the age of 14. I had never been to a country with real poverty and it shocked me deeply to see how people where living in makeshift housing right next to the country clubs and big mansions. At the same time I also saw how that inequality was affecting women in a particular way. And that inequality was also manifesting itself in my own life, where I started to be really acutely aware of how differently my brother and I were treated, just because he was a boy and I was a girl.
It wasn’t a rational decision to set out and do what I can to question this inequality, it was more like a fire burning in myself, that from then on has driven me to question gender stereotypes, and actually any form of stereotypes. I feel lucky that I have always found organisations or institutions that have have given me the opportunity to translate that fire into action and impact. After my Masters in Women’s Studies, I worked for the European Women’s Lobby and then after a short time at the Peru Support Group, I worked for Womankind Worldwide for 10 years, supporting women’s rights organisations all around the world. It showed me just how strong and resilient and inspiring women are, ad how much connects us, so much more than what divides us.
"The power is within us to create a world with greater equality and opportunities for all"
In 2005 I read Zainab Salbi’s book ‘Growing up under the Shadow of Saddam Hussein’ and it tells the story of her early life and how at the age of 25 she sets up Women for Women International in 1995 to help women survivors of war rebuild their lives by connecting them with a sponsor sister in another country. Something clicked inside of me when I finished the book. I knew I had to find a way to connect with Zainab and be a part of this incredible organisation. It stood for everything I believed so passionately in. At the time, Women for Women International was based in Washington and they did not have offices in the UK and my daughters were 5 and 3 so there was no way I was going to move, so I kept following the organisation until one day in 2008 headhunters contacted me, because Women for Women International were setting up an office in the UK and they were looking for a Director. I was so excited, and I remember thinking if I can just get through the interviews to the point of meeting Zainab, that will be fine… Well I did and the rest is history. The more I learned about the organisation’s fantastic vision the more I bought into it and now it has been nearly 10 years since I started and I cannot believe the journey it has been.
I feel so grateful that I am able to help thousands of women in countries affected by conflict to rebuild their lives, to tell their stories and to inspire others to believe that change is possible and that we can do this together. I also now know that for me, it is about our shared humanity, it isn’t just about women, it is about all of us. I feel a renewed sense of urgency that we must all know that we are the change. That the power is within us to create a world with greater equality and opportunities for all.
How do you feel you are positively impacting your society and environment?
"Over the past few years I have realised that my impact can be much bigger if I allow myself to ‘be’"
I used to think for a long time that I had to ‘do’ in order to achieve an impact. I had to work really hard and that would be the measure of the impact. Over the past few years I have realised that my impact can be much bigger if I allow myself to ‘be’. To just stop for a moment, and breathe and appreciate this moment in all its glory and that peace that comes with it, stays with you and it shines through you and the impact it has on those around you is phenomenal, it’s magic. It is transformational. That is why I believe that the more we can allow ourselves to be our own true fierce selves, the greater our impact will be. When we peel away the layers of norms and boxes and expectation that are hiding our fierce, raw self, we shine so bright that we inspire others to also peel back these layers and then we connect as human beings in the most profound way and I know that in those moments, we celebrate our shared humanity, and anger, hatred, envy, violence subside, they disappear. So I know that my actions are positively impacting on women in countries affected by conflict but I also know that my commitment to myself, to be true, has an even bigger impact. I believe that we can only change ourselves, but in the process of doing so, we can inspire others to do the same and that is the greatest impact we can have.
"I believe that we can only change ourselves, but in the process of doing so, we can inspire others"
What's your dream, your vision?
I see a movement of people who are committed to living their own truth, whatever that may mean for each of us, and I can see the ripples of that movement growing and being so strong, with such a magnetic force for light that it will shift the status quo.
My dream is a world where we can be free from judgement, a world where you are born with choices not restrictive boxes, a world where we meet each other as humans and we have a never ending curiosity to get to know each other – without prejudice. A world where we inspire each other.
"All that matters is how you make people feel"
Do you feel you have found your meaning and purpose in life? Why?
About 4 years ago I read ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ and it had a profound impact on me. One of the habits is ‘Begin with the end in mind’. One of the exercises they encourage is to write your own eulogy – what do you want people to say at your funeral. I did that and it was an incredibly powerful moment where it became so crystal clear to me that job titles or accolades are just not important – all that matters is how you make people feel. I have had a strong sense of purpose ever since I landed in Venezuela, but since reading that book, what shifted is that it is all about my purpose now, it is not about anything else. I might move jobs, or embark on new ventures, but I know that my purpose is what will always guide me and one of my passions is to help others find their purpose because it transforms your life and helps you to fulfil your potential.