Fearlessness isn’t a quality conventionally attributed to young girls. Most women reading this article, in fact, will likely remember coming of age in a society in which teachers described them not as being bold and decisive, but bossy; films telling them that girls and women like them are expected to be passive, not assertive. But a non-profit in Amsterdam, Project Fearless is challenging pervasive stereotypes of girlhood from the ground up.
Project Fearless is a grassroots organisation running after-school programs for young girls that inspire bravery and leadership with a focus on community impact. We spoke to founder Mérida Miller to find out more about their mission.
After over seven years as an advanced concept design innovation designer, Mérida knew it was time to take tangible action towards creating a better future: “Giving back has always been a part of my DNA. I was looking for a way to make an impact that I felt really contributed to the future.” Startling, yet relatable statistics, alongside Mérida’s experiences of meeting and talking with other women at various leadership events in Amsterdam, inspired Mérida to act.
“More than half of teen girls feel pressure to be perfect.”
“3 in 4 teen girls worry about failing”
“Between ages 8 and 14, girls’ confidence levels drop by 30%.” – YPULSE, 2018.
“Over and over I kept thinking: why is no one creating a space for the future generation of leaders? Why is no-one encouraging young girls to speak up, support each other, fail early and daily, and take up space?”. In 2019, Mérida took matters into her own hands. Project Fearless was built to fill a void left by society: to become a space where girls can be themselves, however that may be.
Today, Project Fearless encourages girls to discover what it means to be a leader in their own right, define their own terms for success, and meet others who are in that same space of discovery: “I wanted to create a space where when a girl walked into the room, she doesn’t feel the need to be who she has been told she needs to be, and instead discovers her voice in her own terms. It’s a place where you can be yourself and try new things without the pressures of ‘am I doing this right?’ or ‘do I look ok when I do this?’”
Crucially, Project Fearless is not only a place for success and trying new things. The project also encourages girls to feel comfortable making mistakes. In a world in which girls and women in particular are held to unrealistic and demanding standards across all realms of life, this is key to the initiative’s ethos: “We flip the script by reframing failure and how we talk about and approach it,” Mérida explains, “We’re creating a space where girls feel comfortable making mistakes and are comfortable trying new things.”
Connecting community with leadership
Project Fearless programs fall under three categories: the Mind & Movement Lab, Maker’s Space and Community & Leadership. “Often these can overlap,” explains Mérida, “For instance, in our ARTivism for Climate Action course we learn about climate change, our impact, and then use art and making like 3D printing, laser cutting and screen printing as an expressive way to encourage others to take action.” Each course is designed to build confidence and resilience, encourage learning by doing, teamwork and community connection: “We are driven by giving back, and we instil the value of this within our girls.”
Since its launch in 2019, Project Fearless have welcomed over 190 girls from all over Amsterdam and beyond, who together represent over 23 different nationalities. In Autumn 2020, they launched a mentorship program for teens aged 15-18, giving them the opportunity to become active role models for the younger girls in its programs and the surrounding community.
“How to be a Roll Model”
Ever seen a skate film directed by a woman, created and shot by an all-female, non-binary crew and creative team, and in collaboration with an all-girls skate crew? Yep, it’s a pretty rare thing to come by. But Project Fearless doesn’t shy away from a challenge.
Throughout the lockdowns of 2020, Mérida noticed that she couldn’t find any trick tutorials led by women to send the girls while they weren’t able to get together. So, she decided to put together a crew and make a film by the girls, for the girls. Mérida made it her mission to create accessible role models for young girls who might be interested in jumping on a board, but a little unsure of where to begin.
Projects and actions like these pave the way for the next generations of women to take up spaces conventionally occupied by men. Project Fearless provides the tools for young girls to define themselves, plugging the gap left by a society that encourages adherence to rigid gender roles from an increasingly young age. By subverting gender norms from the ground up, initiatives like Project Fearless have a lasting impact on how the world views girls and women more generally, creating new pathways for self-definition that are so crucial to young people’s formative years.
Interested in getting involved with Project Fearless? They’re always on the lookout for dynamic and interesting coaches to join their volunteer team, from skateboarders and boxers, to artists and makers. Think you’d be a good fit? Get in touch here.
Project Fearless host both courses and fun pop up workshops. Start the conversation about joining a course or a workshop and email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Project Fearless are also on the lookout for a space for the official Clubhouse and community meeting space. A permanent location will allow them to expand the types of courses they offer, particularly the Makers Space and woodworking sessions, and even host exciting events. Do you know of the perfect place in need of a new (and pretty inspiring) tenant? Get in touch with Mérida here!
Something as simple as hitting follow on Instagram and sharing the initiative with others goes a long way for initiatives like Project Fearless. Check out their social channels to get involved, or sign up to their newsletter to stay in the know.