Imagine if Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs had been born in Africa or Asia or Latin America. Do you think they would have realized their potential? Now imagine if each of these men had a sister who was also an innovator. Do you think she would have had access to the same resources that her brother enjoyed, to realize her dreams?
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used to say, "Talent is universal, but opportunity is not." As Secretary of State she worked hard to create more opportunities for people across the globe. She understood that when you elevate others and unleash human potential to drive global prosperity, it advances both our national-security interests and those of people everywhere.
This is why I volunteer my time to promote entrepreneurship around the world, and why I was so excited to be selected to share my expertise and perspective in the Global Ambassadors Program. The Global Ambassadors Program is a unique partnership between Bank of America and Vital Voices, a leading NGO investing in women's leadership. The initiative connects women leaders who are at a tipping point in their professional, business and leadership paths with established women executives for week-long mentoring forums in regions around the world, building on Vital Voices' 16 years of global experience in training and mentoring women who practice transformative leadership to advance economic development and entrepreneurship in their communities. Global Ambassadors (the mentors) and mentees come from diverse backgrounds, with high levels of achievement and far-reaching potential, and Ambassadors work to help their mentees further their professional goals. Following the program, women leaders invest in shared progress by taking these new skills, access to information and networks, and sharing them with others, creating a ripple effect of positive change around the world.
When I arrived in Mexico City, I didn't realize what a transformative experience this would be, not just for the mentees but for the Global Ambassadors. We all came as strangers and left as friends, ready and eager to support the advancement of women in this network and beyond.
The week was filled with opportunities to both work together and bond over meals and storytelling. We began with some time for each group of Ambassadors and mentees to get to know each other separately. The Ambassadors were a distinguished group of accomplished leaders from the accounting, banking, consumer-goods, entertainment and entrepreneurship sectors. We came from Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and the U.S., and each of us was committed to using the week to help our mentees advance their business or organization. Several also saw this as an opportunity to step away from our daily work and gain personal insight that would help us make positive changes in our own careers.
The question we each asked ourselves was: How can we best help our mentee advance her business? What are her biggest opportunities, and what are her most daunting challenges?
The mentees came from seven Latin American and Caribbean countries and represented businesses as diverse as elegant recycled-paper products to gluten-free foods to tourism promotion to fashion-forward jewelry and more. In my case, I was paired with Yemy S. Zonana, a highly successful woman who had built a nonprofit over almost two decades with 13 locations and an annual turnover of almost U.S. $2.5 million. How could I help her?
As we met on the hotel's rooftop deck overlooking the city's beautiful green landscape of distinctive architecture and parks, we discussed a major transition in Yemy's organization that required a particular focus on both board and senior management. Yemy described her frustrations, and we outlined several strategies and actions to address emerging issues and lay the foundation for a smooth transition and her continued success. We also talked about how to diversify her funding streams to leverage both the organization's strengths and her own. Finally, we addressed a critical challenge for all leaders: ensuring balance and sustainability in one's own life in order to ensure the sustainability of the organization.
After spending several intensive days working together and bonding over meals and activities, we rejoined the larger group and reported on our plans and shared our stories. In so doing, something magical happened: Suddenly the wall between mentors and mentees fell, and we realized how much we had all learned from each other. We said our goodbyes both energized and exhausted from a very full week, knowing that we were looking forward to continuing to support each other's success. As we did, we were reminded of an African verse:
"If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together."
This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post publication. Content was produced by outside parties not affiliated with Bank of America. Opinions or ideas expressed are not necessarily those of Bank of America, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, U.S. Trust or Bank of America Merrill Lynch, nor do they reflect their views or endorsement. These materials are for informational purposes only. Bank of America, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, U.S. Trust and Bank of America Merrill Lynch do not assume liability for any loss or damage resulting from anyone's reliance on the information provided.