Blair Brettschneider is the founder and executive director of GirlForward, an organization that provides adolescent refugee girls with individual mentorship, educational programs and leadership opportunities. In 2013, CNN tabbed her as a CNN Hero. More recently "Forbes" tabbed her as one of its 30 Under 30 Women selections for 2017.
Dreaming Made Simple: What's your dream for GirlForward? How did your dream originate?
Blair Brettschneider: My dream for GirlForward is to provide refugee girls in the United States with the opportunities they need to reach their full potential. When I moved to Chicago in 2010, I worked at a refugee resettlement agency, which helps families and individuals once they receive resettlement in the U.S. I got to know one of the girls whose family was served by the agency - Domi, who was 18 at the time and a refugee from Burundi. Working one-on-one with her on homework, I got to see all of the challenges she faced in her new life in Chicago, but also learned how driven she was to succeed in high school and go to college. I knew there were other refugee girls like her, and in 2011, I started GirlForward, an organization dedicated solely to empowering refugee girls from diverse backgrounds, now resettled in the U.S. Our programs address the five biggest challenges faced by refugee girls: poverty, language barrier, social isolation, a need for positive role models and limited/interrupted education. Our programs give girls the tools and resources they need to overcome these obstacles and achieve their goals.
Dreaming Made Simple: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Blair Brettschneider: I'm extremely proud of what our girls have accomplished, from graduating from high school, to being accepted into college, to opening their first bank accounts. In terms of GirlForward as an organization, I'm proud of how much we have been able to do in a short amount of time. In a little more than three years, we have served over 100 girls from 14 different countries.
Dreaming Made Simple: What have been the biggest obstacles or challenges?
Blair Brettschneider: The hardest part of running an organization, in my opinion, is that you can never be completely prepared for the obstacles or challenges that are going to arise. I'm a pretty organized person, and we have great structure in place, but the things that are hard are never things you see coming. Earlier on, we had a girl whose plans to attend college were almost derailed by an arranged marriage. It was something I had never dealt with before, and I was very unsure of what would happen. We had a discussion about it, and she ended up talking to her parents about her desire to go to college and how this marriage could really put that in jeopardy. They understood her concerns and decided not to go through with it.
Sometimes things come up that you are not prepared for, and you have to learn as you go. My advice to people in pursuit of their dreams, whatever they are, is to have confidence in yourself, first and foremost. GirlForward would not be where it is today if I had not gone into every meeting fully confident that we would accomplish our goals. No one wants to fund an organization led by a person who isn't sure it's going to work out! Be confident and others will have confidence in you, too.