In celebration of this year’s recent International Women’s Day I decided to find my own source of inspiration. So I reached out to Jacqueline Fernandez, a female CEO, to talk all things business as well her personal feats in recent years.
Graduating from the prestigious Goldsmith University with an MA in Counselling, at such a young age, Jacqueline is already the founder and CEO of her own non-profit organisation; What You Do Matters (WYDM).
What You Do Matters began in 2012 fuelled by the passion of its founder. Over the course of the last 4 years, this ever-growing organisation has already hosted over 8 fundraisers for a range of causes.
You’re the CEO of an inspiring non-profit organisation, what has been your main driver for getting WYDM set up?
JF: In 2011, I took the plunge and went travelling around Asia on my own. The poverty I saw whilst I was out there, especially in Manila struck me hard. I travelled for six months which gave me time to reflect on my purpose and what would be my next steps upon returning. I returned with this bursting energy to be a supporter, encourager and aspiring leader. Through my studies, volunteering and my job I have been able to understand just how much impact one person can make. But I wanted other people to feel that too.
After the very first WYDM event fundraiser for my trip to Ghana, my friends and family became eager to get involved. As a result, WYDM became a platform for people to come together and get involved to help and support others. Everyone matters and I strive to spread this message to as many people as I can, because from my experience, many people don’t realise just how much they do matter.
Tell me a little bit about your work at WYDM? What is your vision for the future of WYDM?
JF: What You Do Matters requires consistent hard work. I view it as a movement, constantly growing and progressing. I have spent nearly four years persistently seeking supporters, getting as many people involved and networking with other organisations.
My vision for WYDM is to run as an established charity in London, running summer workshops, mentoring programmes throughout the year and volunteering schemes in Winter. Last year we launched our very first women’s workshop in Newham and this year we are currently working on launching our Personal Development Programme for young women in May.
Everyone matters and I strive to spread this message to as many people as I can, because from my experience, many people don’t realise just how much they do matter.
It was International Women’s Day this month, who has been your biggest female inspiration and why?
JF: Honestly… Angelina Jolie! My team and my friend’s all know how much I admire her humanitarian work and her transparent fight to impact the world. I take pride in the fact I have a very strong female support system. With a very hard-working mum, I was allowed to dream as big as I wanted, as long as I knew I had to work for it.
My closest friends and my WYDM team consist of very supportive and ambitious women. I believe you are who you spend time with, and I am grateful to be surrounded by friends who inspire me time and time again.
It’s 2016 and there are still gender equality issues, both across society in general but more specifically there are still a lack of female leaders. What do you think are the big issues facing women?
JF: A couple of years ago I took part in the 10th Commonwealth Women’s Ministerial video on ‘aspiring women leaders’ and was asked about leadership and viewing myself as leader.
The most difficult aspect in my journey towards leadership was when I was starting up. I was unsure whether WYDM was going to be taken seriously. So I used social media and every opportunity to talk about my vision until people became curious. I didn’t view being the CEO & Founder of WYDM as a ‘leader’ per se, but then I realised the impact it was having on people who supported.
Unfortunately even though times have changed and are constantly changing, we cannot change all attitudes. There is still so much work to do to bring awareness for women leaders.
There’s been a negative backlash to the word ‘feminist’ and what it means to be a feminist, how would you describe a feminist?
JF: I do laugh when people view me as ‘pro-woman’ as if it is a special status! Of course I am pro-woman, as a woman, why would I not be? I am a proud feminist. The problem lies with the variations of what being feminist means. For me, I stand by those who do not have a voice – I am a strong believer in helping women who have suffered domestic violence, rape, sex trafficking and homelessness and through my work as a support worker and counsellor, I have been able to help.
At WYDM we have been working on empowering young women aged 16-25 with workshops and mentoring programmes. Recalling from my personal experiences at that age, I did not feel there were enough opportunities for women to come together.
Of course I am pro-woman, as a woman, why would I not be? I am a proud feminist.
Whilst there are still stereotypes about being a feminist, I am a firm believer men can be feminists too. I believe we fight for equality together. As a feminist, I believe in empowering other women in taking steps to reach their full potential. I am a feminist, therefore I believe women are strong and powerful. Being a feminist, I believe it is my duty to create future women leaders to diminish traditional gender stereotypes.