The following is from the Aug. 8, 2017, edition of The Dallas Morning News. Brittany Merrill Underwood, an international advocate for women and children, is a 2007 graduate of SMU and a 2013 recipient of the University’s Emerging Leader Award, which recognizes an alumnus or alumna who graduated in the last 15 years.
March 24, 2017
By Holly Haber
Mosaic Family Services will present the 2017 Champion of Human Rights Award to Brittany Merrill Underwood at its Oct. 6 gala at Sixty Five Hundred.
"I admire what she is doing to empower women and help them help themselves," said event co-chair Ashley Anderson Smith. "It embodies everything we are doing at Mosaic."
The agency shelters victims of sex trafficking, domestic violence, slavery and other abuses. It has 46 beds, and demand is growing, Smith said.
As a sophomore at Southern Methodist University, Underwood witnessed a Ugandan woman living in extreme poverty while caring for 24 street children. Underwood established a nonprofit before graduating, and moved to Uganda in 2006 to build an orphanage and drill water wells.
Underwood quickly realized that those improvements were not enough: The women needed a way to support themselves, their children and the orphans who lived with them.
In 2007, she founded the Akola Project, a nonprofit social enterprise that invests all of its profits in vocational training, social services and community infrastructure for disadvantaged women.
Akola's paper bead, metal, glass and horn designs are now sold in hundreds of boutiques and the company's branded shop in Snider Plaza.
Last year, Underwood brought the concept home by developing a higher-end Akola line that's produced by marginalized Dallas women for Neiman Marcus. Akola X Neiman Marcus has been so successful since its September launch that it's now sold in all 42 stores.
In March, Inc. magazine named Underwood one of the world's top 10 CEOs.
Smith and Nusia Sookarow are co-chairs of the casino-themed Mosaic Family Services 8th Annual Champion of Human Rights Gala with honorary chair Susan Posnick. Visit mosaicservices.org/events to purchase tickets, which start at $150.