Brittany grew up in Atlanta, Georgia in what most would consider an upper-middle class home. She enjoyed a relatively typical childhood – not one of privilege – but not wanting for much. She completed high school at a noted boarding school in the northeast before enrolling at Southern Methodist University (SMU).
She was a 19-year-old sophomore when she committed to spending the summer with some high school friends. She attended a forum in Washington D.C. where she was exposed to a concept of growing her faith by spending time with friends and learning how to love one another. The father of one of those friends was the executive director of the World Harvest Ministry. The ministry needed teachers at a boarding school in East Africa. Although Brittany’s choice had been to spend the summer in Europe, she and her friends ended up in Uganda.
Brittany had never experienced true poverty – and certainly had never lived at that level. She was physically sick for the first two weeks in Uganda. It didn’t take long for her to regret her choice. She was despondent and detached. An Uganda minister noticed her demeanor and asked her to go with him to meet someone. Little did Brittany know that her life was about to change in ways she never could have imagined.
She met Sarah, a Ugandan woman a mere three years older than Brittany. Sarah had taken responsibility for twenty-four Ugandan children who had no family and no home. Sarah barely had enough to feed herself – yet was totally committed to providing shelter and food for these street kids. What drove her was her faith that God would provide.
In a meeting, which lasted barely no more than 10 minutes, Brittany’s sense of complacency was shattered. Here she was, having been given everything in life, yet sharing nothing while Sarah had literally been given nothing yet shared everything. That was about to change – and change exponentially.
Brittany returned to SMU, committed to raising enough money to build a home for Sarah and those 24 children. That vision quickly became a commitment to build an orphanage large enough to house 200 children. Brittany began a fund-raising campaign – leveraging the connections and financial well being of her family and friends. Being in Dallas, Texas was another blessing given that city’s number of high-achieving – and generous – residents. By her senior year, Brittany had raised $1,000,000. Impressive for sure – but Brittany wasn’t finished.
In addition to the orphanage, Brittany’s team drilled fresh water wells throughout the country. Travelling the country made it abundantly clear that Sarah’s situation was the norm – not the exception. The male population had been dramatically impacted in several ways. Lives were lost to the AIDS epidemic and war – other men simply abandoned their families. The average Ugandan woman cares for ten children – not all of them their own.
Brittany realized more needed to be done. She determined that providing vocational training and education to these women was a more sustainable model. Brittany saw the opportunity to sell the beautiful and unique jewelry created by the Ugandan women at high-end boutiques throughout the United States. The Ugandan were ‘all in’ as the saying goes – they even came up with a name – The Akola Project. Akola in Ugandan means ‘work’. These women were more than happy to put forth the effort to learn, create and sell to improve their lives – and those of the children.
These amazing accomplishments are the result of one essential fact – Brittany Merrill Underwood is a fearless brand.
Fearless Brands find their purpose and apply their skills to create relevant and significant outcomes
Brittany Underwood the philanthropist, dreamer and doer (not to be confused with the famous singer of the same name) has touched tens of thousands of lives. She was open to growing as a person of faith – open to discovering her purpose. She had no inkling that an exercise meant to grow her faith by learning to love her friends, would bring her to the path she has chosen.
Brittany met a man during her original fund raising efforts – he was part of one of the families who donated to the cause. He saw first-hand, Brittany’s drive and purpose – her commitment to bettering the lives of women halfway around the world. He wasn’t put off by it – quite the contrary – he embraced it – so much so, that he and Brittany married and now have a child of their own. Being married with a child makes it more of a challenge for Brittany to spend extensive time in Uganda, but her commitment and drive continue.
The Akola project is what Brittany refers to as a Full Impact Brand. Simply defined, that means that each and every level of Akola has a direct impact to the women and children – the community – in need. It’s that philosophy which has helped extend the Akola project into Dallas. Brittany, and Akola, have begun to train, engage and employ women in the U.S. who are victims of sex trafficking.
She approached Neiman-Marcus, headquartered in Dallas, with the hope that they would place Akola jewelry five or six stores. Instead, they committed to carry the line in all of their stores and on-line. Additionally, Brittany has opened a store in the arts and fashion Dallas neighborhood known as Deep Ellum.
There are several aspects to Brittany and her accomplishments which will be of benefit to anyone seeking to build a fearless brand and create significance.
Be open to discovering what your true purpose is – Brittany was ready to return to the U.S. – she had her fill of poverty and sickness. Yet she agreed to go with the minister to meet someone – for an unknown purpose. What if she had declined that visit? What if she had a closed mind as to Sarah’s plight – to the plight of those children? Thankfully, those are rhetorical questions. Brittany was open – she did discover her purpose. Her openness led to the significant change she’s creating in the world. Be open to whatever gifts and challenges are placed in your path.
Know that there IS a higher power – It was Brittany’s Christian faith that led her to even considering a trip to Uganda. Her faith led her to meet Sarah – an example of even greater faith in God. Take this for whatever you find it to be worth – there IS a higher power, you DO have a higher calling, you CAN create value in your part of the world.
Make your dreams bigger – Brittany’s commitment began with a thought of sending a few hundred dollars to Sarah – then she dreamed bigger. In just over a dozen years, her impact has been felt by tens of thousands. Why? She allowed herself to dream bigger. Small dreams are essential and wonderful – and I hope you pursue each one you have. Let that small dream grow into a larger one. Believe that you can create and deliver more value than you ever thought – stretch your dreams – extend your impact.
Brittany Merrill Underwood – a woman of faith, compassion, and drive – a truly fearless brand. Her story is amazing, her impact far-reaching. Her efforts continue to help marginalized women across the globe. Build your fearless brand. Find your faith, compassion and drive. You’ll be surprised at how much value you deliver and how many lives you’ll touch.