Meet Me

IN LONDON WITH BRITA FERNANDEZ SCHMIDT


Meet Brita Fernandez Schmidt, the Executive Director of Women for Women International - UK. Brita is an advocate and promoter of women's empowerment, women's rights and equality. Discover Brita's biggest achievement, her go-to jewellery look and how you can join the sisterhood.


TELL US ABOUT WOMEN FOR WOMEN INTERNATIONAL AND THE WORK THAT YOU DO?

Women for Women International works in conflict affected countries supporting the most marginalised women to rebuild their lives and create lasting change in their communities. We were established in 1993 in response to the atrocities committed against women during the Bosnian conflict, where an estimated 20,000 - 50,000 women were subjected to rape and sexual violence as tactics of war. During the last 25 years, we have expanded and adapted the 12 month programme that we implement to reach more than 479,000 marginalised women across 8 conflict affected countries, including Afghanistan, Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kosovo, Rwanda, Nigeria, South Sudan and Iraq.

WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU HAVE ACHIEVED WITH WOMEN FOR WOMEN INTERNATIONAL THAT HAS MADE YOU MOST PROUD?

The holistic programme that we implement is 12 months long, which gives women survivors of war the tools they need to rebuild their lives. When the women arrive they are often really traumatised by the experiences they have been through and it is an incredible step for them to come and believe that by enrolling in our programme they can rebuild their lives. I have been with Women for Women International - UK for 10 years now and I have had the opportunity to follow and support women throughout their journeys. We continue to visit the women after they graduate and it is amazing to watch them grow into successful and empowered business women. Even though we do not speak the same language, they know how much we care and I am really proud to provide a sense that their lives matter.

TELL US ABOUT THE #SHEINSPIRESME CAMPAIGN AND HOW IT STARTED?

#SheInspiresMe is a global campaign, which we launched due to the urgent need to help women who were suffering the trauma of war violence and displacement. There are over 20 brutal armed conflicts across the globe right now and unprecedented levels of violence against women. We wanted to create something that would help us to reinvigorate and inspire people to support our work. An estimated 10 civilians die for every 1 combatant killed in battle and 75% of these are women and children, therefore it is actually more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in war. The campaign's message is rooted in the original stories of the women that we serve in some of the world's most dangerous places, who are surviving and thriving to overcome unbelievable odds and cause the ripple effect of change for their families.

HOW WERE YOU INTRODUCED TO MONICA VINADER AND WHAT MADE YOU FALL IN LOVE WITH THE BRAND?

I was introduced to Monica by one of our Trustees, Hikari Yokoyama, who knew Monica and was a fan of the brand. When I first met Monica she told me about how she set up her business and her passion and drive really resonated with my passion and drive for what I do. I love what Monica Vinader stands for and the craftsmanship behind the jewellery, each piece tells its own story. The Nura Friendship bracelet is just perfect, it is all about celebrating the strength of women, inspiration and beauty and I just think that is fantastic.

MONICA VINADER WAS RECENTLY APPOINTED AS AN AMBASSADOR FOR WOMEN FOR WOMEN INTERNATIONAL, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO HAVE SUCH A STRONG INFLUENTIAL COMMUNITY OF WOMEN TO WORK WITH?

It is really exciting to have someone so entrepreneurial and passionate about our work as an ambassador, it is hugely inspiring and Monica's commitment to the work we do shines through -, every time she speaks about our work I feel inspired. There is such a synergy between Monica's vision and the vision behind Women for Women International, I know Monica worked really hard to build her business in the midst of a financial crisis and actually there are a lot of parallels with the women we help support and encourage.

AS AN ADVOCATE OF WOMEN'S EMPOWERMENT, WOMEN'S RIGHTS AND EQUALITY, WHAT WOULD BE YOUR MOST IMPORTANT PIECE OF ADVICE TO ANYONE LOOKING TO HELP SUPPORT WOMEN?

The most important advice I often give is that we are all stronger than we think and we are all capable of doing so much more than we think possible. If you feel passionate about something but you do not pursue it because you think you are not able to then I would say to you, you can. Trust yourself and find a way, there is no wrong answer and there is something we can all do to support women. It can be as simple as holding someone's hand, saying I believe in you or sponsoring a woman.

WHAT IS A DAY LIKE IN THE LIFE OF BRITA FERNANDEZ SCHMIDT?

What I love so much about my life and my work is that there is no typical day, although I have created a basic routine to help me stay grounded. A typical morning starts when I wake at 5.30am and take my dogs for a run, then I make myself a green smoothie and meditate whilst on the train travelling to work. I have a staff meeting with my team every Monday morning where we discuss one good thing that happened last week and we really support each other and focus on why we do what we do. The rest of the day is usually very unpredictable, I could be meeting with a Minister from the UK government; or a journalist for an interview or speaking at an event about what Women for Women International do. After returning home I like to spend my evenings cooking dinner with my daughters, relaxing and reflecting on what the day has brought and what tomorrow might bring.

THE NURA FRIENDSHIP BRACELET IS HELPING TO RAISE FUNDS FOR WOMEN FOR WOMEN INTERNATIONAL. IT WAS DESIGNED WITH A LARGE SURFACE, THE PERFECT CANVAS FOR PERSONALISATION - CAN YOU TELL US WHAT YOU HAD ENGRAVED ON YOUR BRACELET AND WHAT THE MEANING BEHIND IT IS?

I engraved "Shine bright, breathe and let go. #FearstoFierce." I always want to try and be my best, I want to shine bright and not hold myself back. Remembering to take a breath and let go of fear allows me to shine bright. The hashtag is my favourite motto and it was the subject of my TEDx talk about moving from fears to fierce. Your fierce is the true essence of who you are.

PURCHASING THE MONICA VINADER NURA FRIENDSHIP BRACELET IS ONE WAY TO SUPPORT THE WORK OF WOMEN FOR WOMEN INTERNATIONAL. WHAT OTHER WAYS ARE THERE TO GET INVOLVED AND CHAMPION THE CHARITY?

The other thing I would love people to do is to sponsor a woman, you can join the sisterhood by directly sponsoring one sister to go through our holistic programme for 12 months. Just £22 a month will fund her training for a year, you can write letters to her and really help transform her life. I think it is amazing and have been doing it myself for over 10 years, I met my sister this June when I was in Rwanda and it was incredible, she showed me the letters I had sent her and you could really tell how much it meant to her. It is not just about financial contributions though, you can also help by raising awareness and creating a positive ripple effect through using your voice and your networks. You can follow us on our social media @WomenforWomenUK or join our #SheInspiresMe sisterhood.

DO YOU HAVE A SENTIMENTAL PIECE OF JEWELLERY OR A PIECE WITH A FABULOUS STORY BEHIND IT?

I have the Monica Vinader Esencia Friendship bracelet which Monica created three years ago in aid of Women for Women International and the #SheInspiresMe campaign. It is a beautiful piece, which I really love as it is the first thing Monica and I ever worked on together. I engraved it with the name of my first sister I sponsored 11 years ago, her name is Amela and she was born in Bosnia. We had exchanged letters and she told me about how she was doing, about her daughters, and she thanked me for knowing she exists. She told me that with the stipend she received (each woman received $10 per month whilst participating in the year-long programme) she had purchased tulip seeds and planted them in her garden so she could always remember me. I was so moved and touched by this that I engraved her name to remember that we can all make a difference and sometimes we have no idea what it means for someone just to know that you know they exist.

HOW DO YOU USE JEWELLERY IN YOUR EVERYDAY LOOK?

I am quite a minimalist, I tend to wear my Monica Vinader Friendship bracelets everyday because I love how meaningful they are. For me jewellery is about making a statement and starting a conversation - I will wear my Nura Friendship bracelet, so when people ask about it I can tell them the story behind the jewellery and what it stands for.

There are lots of different things you can do to join the sisterhood and support the movement.

Visit www.womenforwomen.org.uk to find out more.

UK Charity Registration Number: 1115109

You Might Like