Inspiring The Female Leaders of Tomorrow – Interview with Marsha Powell
Marsha Powell is a woman on a mission. Growing up, Marsha had three sisters and an encouraging mum; when she lost her mother at the age of 52, Marsha pledged to make a difference in the world. Using all her knowledge and experience from a 15-year career in HR in the city and a Masters in Personal Development, she founded BelEve UK, a London-based girls’ charity, to equip girls and young women with the support network, skills, and confidence to make informed choices about their future and become the next generation of female leaders. Over the past ten years, Marsha has been pivotal in the transformation of the lives of over 7,000 girls aged 8-21 and is committed to making a contribution to the female empowerment and gender equality narrative in the UK.
Empowerment to me means finding your power within you.
Brand You met up with Marsha to talk about the great work she is doing and began by asking her what empowerment signifies to her.
Empowerment to me means finding your power within you. Self development enables women to reconnect with the core of who they are, in order to become the best version of themselves.
You founded BelEve in 2013 as a London-based charity for girls and young women to create opportunities that will help advance their future and life journeys. Tell us what it was that inspired you to choose this path?
After the death of my mother in 2011, I wanted to live my purpose and create a legacy organisation that was underpinned with her values. At 32, my reality was that I had lost my main cheerleader, the person who had supported me in believing and achieving my aspirations. With that said, I wanted to recreate some of my mum’s magic and support girls and young women in becoming empowered, confident human beings with access to unlimited opportunities and experiences that would ultimately improve their social mobility, life and career chances.
I always wanted to set up a mentoring programme, connecting girls with amazing women as their mentors, in order to dismantle some of the barriers girls from working class backgrounds may face. Having a mentor has been so influential to me becoming the woman I am now, so it was my dream to be able to create this possibility for other girls and young women.
BelEve is a non-profit organisation; did you receive financial help to get started and how do you fund its running costs?
Initially we were self-funded. I gave up my much-loved career and focused on building the organisation for six months. Our first successful funding bid was a £10k grant from the lottery. Thankfully, today we have a robust fundraising strategy with multiple income streams, which helps the sustainability of the charity. This year, we are focusing on gaining more regular givers through our A Gift Of a Mentor Campaign; we are asking our supporters to pledge £5 a month to help us in supporting more young women through mentoring.
“The biggest thing that is holding most girls back is not believing that their powers, choices and opportunities are limitless.”
Do you think being female in the 21st century is more challenging than previous generations, and why?
Absolutely, because this generation has more added pressure to fit into social norms and pressures, even though the message of “be authentic and stand out” is thrust upon us. In 2022, we are still fighting for equality in so many areas: politics, finances, race and even down to choosing when to start a family.
What do you consider are the key issues being faced by girls and young women in the UK that are holding them back from reaching their full potential?
Covid-19 has disproportionately impacted girls and young women from a financial, social and health perspective. Some of the key issues we have seen include: Peer pressure (peer on peer sexual harassment), influence of social media, mental health and isolation, lack of career opportunities and diversity.
The biggest thing that is holding most girls back is not believing that their powers, choices and opportunities are limitless. The power of social media also creates a narrative that other people’s opinions matter more than their own, with imposter syndrome being a major trigger for poor mental health amongst girls and young women.
“I am an avid networker and I have used my experience and contacts from working in the corporate world to help open doors.”
You work with girls as young as eight. Do children of that age even know what they want to become?
At eight, some girls have an idea of who they want to be like, without necessarily knowing who they want to become (for example they want to be like their mum). Our focus at this early stage is on building girls’ confidence, self-esteem, self-love and finding their superpowers. Our programme, BEAM (Beautiful Empowered & Me), gives girls resources and tools to enhance self-confidence, self-esteem, positive self-image and explore education and career aspirations. We are committed to opening girls’ minds to all of their potential.
How do you spread the word about BelEve and who do you use to open doors?
We use the community that we have built and continue to build to spread the word of BelEve. This includes schools, mentors, parents, funders and the girls we work with. We also have a great digital marketing coordinator who has worked hard over the past year to connect with our audience through digital media. We found that when girls have had a positive experience with us, they share the word.
I am an avid networker and I have used my experience and contacts from working in the corporate world to help open doors. We also have a great board of trustees with an extensive black book of contacts, from Facebook to Deliveroo. But to be fair, we have also opened many doors ourselves by being consistent and bold in our approach to our mission. Our story is filled with purpose and some impressive wins.
“One in three young people will grow up without a mentor.”
Tell us about the various programmes, workshops and events you run. Who are they for and what are the benefits?
The main aims and goals of our programmes and workshops are to equip girls from disadvantaged backgrounds between the ages of 8-21 with confidence and self-esteem but most importantly, support them in gaining the capabilities to become the next generation of female leaders. Everything we create is designed to inspire, motivate, and support girls and young women to believe in themselves with mentoring at the core of all we do. Our core programmes are:
BEAM for 8-11 year olds
The Beautiful Empowered and Me programme is a fun and challenging space, which gives girls the opportunity to come together, connect, explore and learn from each other. The girls receive support and guidance, giving them the confidence to make good decisions which will lead them to reach their full potential.
LeadHerShip is for 12-15 year olds
This interactive programme equips the participants to develop leadership and change-making competencies in order to have an influential voice. The girls are mentored and supported in leading, designing and delivering a campaign or event, which will bring about change or raise awareness of a chosen subject or issue.
Career insight days for 14-21 year olds
A career development programme delivered every half term in partnership with our corporate partners to enrich and educate girls about the different career opportunities that exist in the world of work, giving them an opportunity to gain work experience. They are exposed to a number of career options, access to successful female role models and career advice, gaining employability skills alongside internships and work experience opportunities.
BelEve in her success for 16-21 year olds
A 6-12 month mentoring programme designed to support young women on the next step of their educational or career journey.
Benefits of our programmes:
Raise aspirations and leadership amongst girls and young women.
Increase self-belief and self-confidence.
Empower girls to embrace their uniqueness.
Create access to positive female role models.
Facilitate access to opportunities and experiences.
“Mentoring has proven to have a significant, and at times, life-changing impact on mentees.”
Let’s talk about the power of mentorship. You are a strong believer that every girl needs a mentor to be able to bridge the gap between their aspirations and reality. How does that work and who are your mentors?
Yes! There is power in mentoring, and we have had first-hand experience of how a mentor can transform the lives of our girls and young women. “Every girl needs a mentor,” says Imahra, one of our mentees. “Without mine, I would not have discovered my true potential. It provided a space for me to visualise what I wanted to do with my life.” Mentoring has proven to have a significant, and at times, life-changing impact on mentees, giving them opportunities to gain confidence, amplify their voice and reach their full potential with the right support to successfully transition from education to higher education, or from education to a career.
We have mentors from a wide range of professions, from lawyers and teachers, to branding and marketing specialists and are currently partnering with the Civil Service and Deliveroo to offer girls mentors from both industries. Our belief is that every girl deserves a mentor to support her next steps. Our mentors go through a robust recruitment and training process before they are matched with a mentee. So we know we have a quality pool of mentors to support the young women in our community.
“Our wish for all girls is that they continue to seek new opportunities and experiences to enable them to reach their full potential.”
As a society, are we making enough progress in breaking down the barriers to female leadership and what more needs to be done to best prepare the next generation?
Female leadership is alive – we saw that during the pandemic. The countries led by women delivered pragmatic strategies to tackle the spread of the disease. The fundamental issue has not been barriers, it has been female leadership recognition. With social media and access to the internet, young women can see and connect with powerful women who are successful in various industries. Women’s feminine approach to leadership can be overlooked, however the rise of the social female leader is paving the way for the next generation of female leaders. Today, girls and young women are being brave and amplifying their voices on issues that they are passionate about, whilst dismantling the phrase of this being a man’s world.
How will you be celebrating International Women’s Day this year and what would your wish be for all the lovely girls and young women who belong to your sisterhood?
BelEve is 10 years old this March (2022), so International Women’s Day is a big one for us. We are working closely with our young leadership team to celebrate throughout March. Our wish for all girls is that they continue to seek new opportunities and experiences to enable them to reach their full potential and become the leaders of the future.
Article published in Brand You Magazine – Edition 16
Interview by Olivia Marocco – Editor-in-Chief of Brand You Magazine
Marsha Powell – Co-founder of BelEve
With 10 years as a HR business partner, Marsha brought her corporate experience to the charity sector and founded BelEve, in 2021, as a movement for the next generation of female leaders to gain opportunities and experiences through a network of women and corporate partners.
LinkedIn: Marsha Powell