Charity Meets: Andrea Powell, Founder Of FAIR Girls
In 2003, Andrea Powell co-founded FAIR Girls, an organization that prevents the exploitation of girls worldwide with empowerment and education. Since that time, she has led FAIR Girls’ efforts to prevent the sex trafficking and exploitation of girls in the United States and in FAIR Girls’ global programs in Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Russia, and Uganda. In her current position as Executive Director of FAIR Girls, Andrea over-sees all operational, programmatic, and developmental aspects of FAIR Girls. She is also FAIR Girls’ chief liaison to the D.C. Anti Trafficking Task Force and has trained hundreds of U.S. and international audiences, including federal and local law enforcement, service providers, state and federal policy makers, teachers, how to identify and assist child victims of sex and forced labor trafficking.
Also a professor for the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, Andrea teaches courses in global sex trafficking and girl’s empowerment. Her work has been published and featured in numerous media outlets, and. in 2012, Andrea was one of four selected women for the Diane Von Furstenberg’s People Choice Award.
Name: Andrea Christine Powell
Occupation: Founder & Executive Director, FAIR Girls
Twitter Handle: @FAIR_Girls
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/fairgirls.org
What are three words that best describe you? I am curious what my newborn daughter might say in about 10 years, but for now ….relentless, creative, and perspicacious
Could you describe your business? In 2003, I co-founded FAIR Girls (a D.C. based nonprofit) to empower & assist young women and girl survivors of labor and sex trafficking. In 2013, FAIR Girls team of 10 assisted over 300 girls aged 10 to 23, and 110 were American girls. Ten years ago, I could have never believed that I would be leading a team of 17 in five countries. I
What is your role, where are you based and what do you inspires you most about your work? As Executive Director, my role is extremely diverse and I’m headquartered in Washington.D.C.. Amid the staff management meetings, fundraising, accounting decisions, and board relations, I also spend about 25% of my time working directly to empower girls by helping them find employment, testify in court, or offer them mentorship and supportive counseling. I also really enjoy co-chairing the training committee of the DC Anti Trafficking Task Force where I get to train and work alongside some of D.C.’s finest law enforcement who are on the front lines of fighting human trafficking in the nation’s capital.
It’s easy to just be sad when you hear about sex trafficking. Or, to think it happens “over there” or to girls who simply made bad choices in life. The truth is that the majority of the girls I have met and worked with at FAIR Girls were American girls who grew up in the foster care system or were abused at home. These girls had no one to look out for them and help them reach their full potential in life. That is what makes me sad. But, what gives me hope is seeing the hundreds of girls we serve go from being victims to survivors. They are out there getting jobs, going to college, speaking at the White House, falling in love, raising families, and starting their own businesses. FAIR Girls is about taking empowerment to the 1000th degree.
Was there anything in your past that pointed you in the direction you’ve taken? I was always drawn to standing up for girls who others thought were easy targets. In junior high, a group of the “in” girls decided to write the word “SLUT” in permanent black marker on a friend’s forehead. After yelling at those girls, I spent an hour trying to wipe the word off. The principal of our school threatened to suspend us if we did not go to class, and I threatened to tell my mom about how she didn’t care about her student’s safety. I won. That really fueled my desire to help more girls. However, it was when I was 18 and studying in Germany that I met another 18 year old Bosnian girl who had been sold by parents to a man in his 60s who used her as a domestic slave serving him and his other three wives. I tried to help her escape, but she disappeared. All these years later, I’m still honoring her memory with every girl we help at FAIR Girls. I’d like to think somewhere she is proud of how much she has inspired.
What experience in your career are you most proud of? Looking at FAIR Girls now, what I’m most proud of is that we have gone from being a small all-volunteer led effort in my basement to being a team of 17 helping hundreds of girls in D.C. and around the world. In particular, I am proud of the girls we serve every day. One young woman in particular makes me very proud. I met her when she was 18 and trafficked from the mid-west to Washington, D.C. by a brutal pimp who planned to sell her on K Street. She escaped, and during the past four years I’ve seen her get back into school, get her own apartment, and really begin to take charge of her life. She’s even testified before Congress. She inspires me, and I’m so proud to know her.
What advice would you share with those still in school? Don’t let others define you or tell you what you should do with your life. There was no guide plan to become a nonprofit founder, trust me. Just be willing to take chances and let yourself explore your talents. And, just remember, you can always turn around and go a different direction. You are never stuck just because of what you studied. In fact, when I hire new employees, most just out of school, I don’t’ care what they studied. I want to see if they are passionate, flexible, and willing to really give it their all. You can only be that way if you love what you do. So, find something you love and chase it. The rest will follow.
Why is giving back is important to you? The concept of charity is evolving. To me, I have as much to gain by giving my time, talents, or money as those who receive what I give. I believe as a young woman who grew up in a loving home with people who believed in me, that I have an obligation to help others feel that same sense of peace and stability.
How has giving back helped you? Every moment I spend with a girl who is surviving sex trafficking is a moment where I see her getting closer to realizing her dreams. I love seeing the striving and joy in a girl’s face when she realizes she is truly valuable and loved. That makes me feel that everything I do is worth the challenges and sacrifices of running a nonprofit. I love these girls, and that love helps me in ways I could never define.
How do you incorporate giving back into your life? I think that giving is not just about writing a check. It’s true, that every nonprofit, FAIR Girls included, critically needs resources and donations to keep our doors open to those who need us. However, giving should be in your daily actions and impact those next to you as much as the charities you invest in. Giving is about the little things such as opening the door for a young woman who is carrying her baby and bags and struggling to jump on the bus. Giving is about asking a homeless man on the park bench how he is doing and offering to buy him a water. Giving is about truly taking the time to share your joy and wealth of opportunity with everyone around you. It’s not just about donating to charity.
Which charities are near and dear to you and why? Of course, FAIR Girls is my “baby.” However, I passionately support a few other charities: Sasha Bruce here in DC who offers homeless teens shelter; Emerge Global helping girl survivors of incest and abuse by teaching them how to manage their own jewelry business; 88Bikes who offers joyful fun programs to girl survivors of trafficking; and The Monk Seal Foundation of Hawaii because, well, I love those giant endangered seals.
When it comes to your own philanthropic efforts, what do you look back and feel made the largest impact on those that you set out to help? Honestly, it’s hard to say. But, when I see the girls who I’ve worked with for years at FAIR Girls now in college, in their own apartments, falling in love and having families then I can truly say that is the impact that I wanted to see thru my own efforts. These are often girls who were “thrown away” by society and trapped in sex trafficking. Or, forced into being a domestic slave. Now, they are heroes who have survived slavery. There is nothing else more amazing to me.
What is the most creative fundraising idea you’ve come across? Honestly, I like to see fundraising ideas where everyone benefits. That’s why I love our JewelGirls program or Emerge Global where it’s not just a handout. The girls in these programs are creating their own jewelry as a means of self-expression, joy, and income. Then, those who buy a piece online or at a party are not just giving money but are helping that girl’s self-esteem skyrocket. And, the woman wearing the jewelry feels a sense of joy and pride every time she looks at her one of a kind necklace or bracelet. Its fun and such a powerful shift in the lives everyone involved. I really love engaging with our donors and demonstrating that they are friends and partners whose ideas is very valuable to us and the girls we serve.
What are some must-attend charity events for you? Well, of course, I love FAIR Girls annual gala, Pearls of Purpose. It’s a true celebration of the girls we empower. We have this program, JewelGirls, where some of the girls we serve make and sell their own handcrafted jewelry. The girls dress up and get to sell their jewelry both to the guests, and later online at www.jewelgirls.org. It’s such a great way for the girls to celebrate their successes in life, work, and love. And, we have great music, jazz, and auction items.
What brands do you wear most often? Eileen Fisher (a wonderful FAIR Girls partner), Free People, and Ella Moss. Love those!
What is your favorite beauty product? Laura Mercier’s oil free tinted moisturizer and black mascara, Nar’s blush in Orgasm, and Este Lauder’s lipstick in Berry Fizz. It’s all about simplicity!
How would you describe your home décor? Hmmm.. Retro 1960s with hints of Bohemian Bosnian lamps, soft lavender pillows and plush velvet chairs. I love lots of color and comfort. I am a bit of a neat freak, however!
What is your secret for hosting a great party? It’s all about who is there. You must have friends who all can get along but are diverse in their experiences and values. That makes for a great discussion. Of course, great wine, homemade pizzas & specialty cocktails are great, too. I like to make sure the music matches the food. It’s the total experience that counts!
Favorite food: I love food! I love soba noodles, homemade pizza, spicy basil jae tofu w/ jasmine rice …
Favorite cocktail: Moscow Mule or a very lime infused sugarless Mojito.
Favorite restaurant: Can I pick three? If so, Thai Regent (18th & T), Barcelona (14th street), and finally Urbana (21st and P)
If you could host a dinner party for 8, who would you invite living or dead? It’s so hard to pick. I’d just love to have all of my closest friends together for one night. Most of my close friends live far away, and I miss them! But, if I could, I’d like to invite Hillary Clinton. I would really like ask her how she manages to do all that stuff on such little sleep. How, Hillary, how?
Favorite vacation spot: There is a little beach on the northern shore of Kauai called Lumahai. The waves are kind of rough, and you have to swim fast, but in that moment everything else disappears and you are truly at peace. I love it. But, I also love the coast of Montenegro! I like places where you can just disappear into the water during the day and enjoy good wine and cook out at night under the stars.
Do you have any tips for parents? Well, I just became a mother on Christmas Day to an amazing little girl named Veronika Asha Millay. Right now, it’s all about the love and giving her all the attention she wants. I don’t care if I spoil her!. I also really admire one mother in particular, Heather King. She’s an amazing woman whose balance of work, her two children, and charity blow me a way. People who complain that kids slow them down or make life hard just don’t see how much fun it can be. I would rather hang out with Veronika then anyone else. She’s the best!
Favorite TV show: Veronica Mars. And, yes, I will see the movie even if the trailers made me a bit nervous. Honestly, I don’t watch too much TV, but all my favorite shows keep ending. Damages, Dexter, The Closer. Why?? Why??
Favorite movie: Waitress with Kerri Russell. This movie really means a lot to me right now, and I just love the honest and complicated portrayal of domestic violence that this movie explores. Plus, I love making pies, which is a central theme of the movie, too.
Favorite song: The Sea by Morcheeba is both so soothing and sexy. I love it. I also really like anything by singer Keren Ann or Diane Birch. They are amazing women singers.
Favorite book: Right now, The Never Listby Koethi Zan and Beyond the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo.
Favorite apps: HotelTonight! I honestly go online and look at hotel deals even when I’m not going anywhere. I know, kind of weird. But, Hotel Palamor for $89 over New Years? That is awesome. iPhone or Android: iPhone. I don’t care, I’m addicted.
Favorite workout: I just walk super fast all over town. I clock about 3 to 5 miles a day. I love being outside in the urban air and seeing all the people as I fly past them. I walk crazy fast!
Where do you get your news? Huffington Post, Al Jazerra or the BBC, theSkimm, Upworthyist, and the Daily Show. Also, what is going on with the new CNN app? I don’t want to watch all those videos.. just give me the news!