Hivery 'We Rise' Scholarship Spotlight: Brianna Russell

Inspired by Maya Angelou's poem, Still I Rise, and the powerful, brave work of women everywhere, we launched The Hivery 'We Rise' Scholarship Program in 2016 to empower, contribute and support passionate, bold beings who work tirelessly toward equality.

It has been an honor to meet and get to know the twelve semi-finalists and two awardees from this year's program. Today, we’d like to introduce you to the fabulous Brianna Russell, Founding Executive Director, Girls Leading Girls.

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Could you please tell us a little about Girls Leading Girls? Absolutely! Girls Leading Girls uses soccer as a way to teach girls ages 7-18 about leadership and character building. We are based in San Francisco and coach soccer teams for more than 300 girls. We want everyone to have access to our programs, so we offer members a sliding payment scale. Some players don’t pay anything to join; others donate on top of the fee in order to help out girls who don't have the resources to pay anything at all.

We launched in 2014, and today we have more than 15 coaches. We’ve gotten so popular that now we have more demand than supply.

Your organization sounds amazing, especially because so much socialization and confidence building can stem from positive experiences in extra curricular activities, especially during childhood. Exactly. And that is where I got the idea. I grew up in the East Bay and played soccer through school, but in eighth grade things went downhill for me. I created Girls Leading Girls because it was exactly what I needed when I was 12 year old.

What happened when you were in eighth grade?
My dad was laid off from a job he’d had for 18 years. It was a really bad time for my family. I failed a class and got kicked off my soccer team. Looking back, I realize now that I was acting out because life was hard at home. My mom could see what I needed, though, and found another team where everyone was nice to me. It was a life game-changer.

I started performing well again, was named MVP, and the team felt like family to me. I didn’t want to miss out on practices or games. From there, I ended up playing soccer at Sacramento State.

What did you do after college?
I studied business in college, so I decided to try working in corporate America and hated it. I left two years later and went into the Peace Corps, where I would lead ‘girls circles,’ which were discussions where girls could ask about anything—questions about their periods, relationships, what it was like to live in the U.S.—you name it. I started playing soccer with them and we started a team.

After the Peace Corps, I came back to the U.S. and got my masters in international studies at USF. I knew I wanted to do something with a non-profit focus, and decided to coach soccer on the side. It was then that parents started asking me to coach their daughters’ teams.

Where did those inquiries come from, you think?
Several parents told me they wanted female coaches for their daughters because there are so few women in the sports. And it’s true; even here in San Francisco, there aren’t a lot of women in high positions in sports. I decided to look into it and created my own organization in 2014. Then, I took it a step further and made the model work for girls who couldn’t afford it. That is when Girls Leading Girls really took off.

I now do this full-time, and have an amazing staff of coaches—some who work three hours per week; others who work 15 hours per week.

What are some of your biggest challenges right now?
I’d love to figure out how to scale and grow larger than ever. I’m interested in finding out how I can open new branches without losing quality, especially legal and operations-wise. And I’m looking for funding to help me hire new staff. I’d love to accept every girl who expresses interest in our program, but right now we have to turn people away because we just don’t have enough bandwidth.

Congratulations on being a ‘We Rise’ scholarship winner! How can The Hivery help you achieve your vision? Thanks! I’m so excited to be part of The Hivery community. I think with its network of women—many of whom likely have backgrounds in marketing, consulting and finance—they may be able to point me in the right direction. I can’t wait to meet as many members as possible.

I also think the space at The Hivery is incredible. I live in San Francisco and it will be a nice place for me to go to get outside my house, interact with other women, attend events, and find inspiration.

Talk about inspiration: YOU are inspiring! What advice can you offer women who want to take a big leap, professionally? First, find a few key people you can trust to help you start. I had three board members and a parent help me start out, and they were huge in helping me figure out what my vision actually was.

Second, make sure the idea is something you care deeply about—something you’d want to be doing for 10 years. And finally, think big-picture. If you knew you couldn’t fail, what would your idea look like?

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We hope you'll join us on Tuesday, November 14th, 7:00-9:00pm at The Hivery to meet Brianna and the other 11 'We Rise' Scholarship finalists at a TedTalk-inspired Hivery Circle: Women Working Towards Equality. Free for Hivery members and $30 for non-members. Please register early to ensure you get a ticket for this inspiring evening!