When Erika Brechtel took 14 women with her on a volunteering trip to Morocco for the first Global Founder’s Retreat this summer, she knew this like-hearted group would inspire one another and form new professional connections. But she had no idea how intense the personal transformations would be within each of them.
“Many tears were shed. It was a cathartic experience—a revelation and release we didn’t know we needed,” Brechtel recalls. “The trip served as a wake-up call, like a summoning, to that tiny whisper within each of us that is ready to roar and make waves.”
As someone who has worked for 20 years as a branding designer, strategist and brand builder, Brechtel has always helped women leaders overcome the biggest block to their own success and fulfillment: themselves. “I believe women just need a little clarity around their value and the confidence to push it out in the world,” says Brechtel. “It’s for these reasons that I have seen my role as a facilitator: I’m simply bringing out of these women what’s already there, what’s always been there. And when we can bring it to light, it gives them life.”
With her new company, Élanoura—which is designed to enlighten, engage, and empower women leaders to create positive change with their businesses—Brechtel is helping women find their untapped power to do big things. Élanoura brings together and supports women by providing opportunities to explore a purpose bigger than themselves, connections outside of themselves and impact beyond themselves. The meaning of the company’s name comes from the concept of leading a “life” (élan) of “light” (oura).
Travel retreats are just one way Élanoura is helping women build their businesses and the legacies they want to leave behind. The company will also be leading enrichment cohorts; doing mentor-matching; providing shared resources, courses and materials; helping with non-profit matching to support women creating positive businesses; and offering free learning opportunities and interviews with women founders.
In addition to Morocco, the week-long impact retreats will head to locations such as Spain, Jordan and Egypt. On these trips, a curated group of women founders from around the world are brought together for development workshops, social activities and a volunteer opportunity with a non-profit. A large donation is left for the non-profit for ongoing support long after the women return home. On the most recent retreat to Morocco, the Élanoura members made a donation to Project Soar, which provides a menstruation solution for young girls, keeping them in school and greatly reducing the likelihood of child marriage.
Since returning home from the Morocco retreat, participants say that they have taken opportunities to collaborate with each other and expand their businesses internationally. Many finally felt inspired to undertake a big initiative they had been putting off. Brianna Diaz, a strength trainer and founder of BriGainz, says the retreat inspired her to rethink her business model to “support a daily life beyond what was thought possible.”
Here, we caught up with Brechtel to find out what inspires her and how other women can find their inner confidence to be a better leader—and a better world citizen.
How I Got Here: “I’m originally from the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii. Later, I moved to Los Angeles to study Art History at UCLA and Interior Design at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM). After school, I started working with clients on collaborative brand strategy, identity and digital design, campaign art direction and photography styling,” says Brechtel. “In 2019, I introduced my Branding Masterclass tour, visiting cities across the U.S. to help women in business learn how to strategically and intentionally build and activate their business, executive or personal brands. In 2021, I launched a Brand Building Foundations online course. In addition to launching Élanoura, I am currently working on a book called Make Your Mark, Make It Matter, which will come out next year. I’ve also been a volunteer for 30 years, having served on four non-profit boards focused on children’s education, girls’ and women’s rights.”
What Motivated Me: “I’ve worked with women for 20 years and have seen the biggest block to women putting themselves out there (vs. men) is a lack of clarity around their value and therefore the confidence to push it out and continue to learn and grow. I’m also frustrated by the lack of financial support for women founders and inequality women experience in the workplace (especially mothers),” says Brechtel. “Men have been running the world and the business world and have set it up as ‘me vs. them,’ which isn’t what consumers and employees want anymore. Women have the opportunity to utilize our natural strengths to bring empathy and compassion to business.”
My Journey: “I am just a girl from Hawaii who happens to be good at design. I had no idea that this 20-year path would guide me to leading women from around the world on impact retreats that would change lives,” says Brechtel. “But that’s the beauty of the journey: When you allow yourself the time and space to explore who you really are and discover what you really want to do, you find that it is so much more expansive than you could have dreamt up when it all began. All it takes is the first step to get started.”
The Big Idea: Brechtel created the idea of taking women on travel retreats because she thought it would have more impact. “As opposed to only donating money to a cause, I knew that if these women got pushed a bit out of the daily grind of their comfort zones and had one-on-one interactions with real people outside their bubbles across the globe, that experience would be enough to jolt them out of any complacency around all the blessings they currently have and into the power they each have to do something with those blessings,” says Brechtel.
Meeting Women Around the Globe: “It is far more impactful to sit with and be inspired by a young girl leader living off of less than a dollar a day who faces real danger of being married before 18 because her family cannot afford basic period supplies for her to stay in school continuously,” says Brechtel. “First, it rocks your perspective around what you already have in your life; then it makes you realize that you can do so much more. You cannot leave unchanged.”
Changing the Approach: There are over 11 million woman-owned businesses in the U.S. and 21 million female founders-to-be among Millennials and GenZ’s, and yet, less than 3% of venture funding is being awarded to women founders. With this in mind, Brechtel is invested in helping women get ahead in business and believes the first step in unleashing a woman’s untapped potential is to get over—essentially—herself. “What women don’t give themselves enough credit for is that they naturally have the abilities that the new world of business needs: empathy, compassion and generosity,” says Brechtel. “It’s no longer a weakness to display these qualities in business. In fact, it’s demanded.”
Making a Difference: According to Brechtel, in order to step into your full potential and shine a light for others, you need to start with clarity around who you are, what makes you unique and what you are passionate about. “Start with defining your 4 P’s: your People (who you’re doing it for), your Purpose (why it matters), your Positioning (how you’re unique) and your Personality (how you can be authentically you). That will provide a foundation you can always return to whenever you want to create something new.”
Consider Your Impact: “Whether it’s the way you engage with a checkout cashier at the grocery store or the energy you bring into a conversation with a friend or on a project, you are in control of how you directly impact each and every interaction in your day and, over time, your life,” says Brechtel. “You will begin to see your relationships change and new opportunities for massive expansion emerge.”
Think Bigger: “At some point, we can all lose our way a bit. We begin to live our lives as an endless loop of daily, weekly, quarterly to-do’s. We forget to step back and view it all from above to get the bigger picture,” says Brechtel. “At the end of it all, what do you want to be remembered for? What do you want to remember? If someone were to Google
Realize Your Power: “Especially through a multi-year pandemic, a recession and major global upheavals, it can feel scary. We can fall into old self-limiting beliefs of fear, lack, judgment and competition,” says Brechtel. “For women in the U.S., as we are watching our rights being stripped away, it’s galvanizing to remember that you do have a voice—a bigger voice than many in other parts of the world. So, what are you going to do with it? How can you be an advocate?”
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