Women have made major strides in Latin America and the Caribbean over the past two decades. More than 70 million women joined the workforce in the region over the past 20 years, and their income alone reduced extreme poverty by 30%. Parity in the number of women and men holding wage-earning jobs has been nearly achieved, and more women than men are enrolled in post-secondary education. However, there still remains a large gap in the type of work that women are doing, and their ability to succeed as business-owners. Of all the factors limiting women’s entrepreneurial success in Latin America and the Caribbean, exclusion from critical professional networks is a major limitation to obtaining the finance necessary to start and grow a business, as well as developing in their careers and achieving a promotion. Mentoring relationships can provide networking opportunities, help women learn how to navigate the professional environment, and teach them how to deal with the challenges of balancing their personal and professional lives.
In an effort to help women develop the relationships crucial to their success, the Global Ambassadors Program invited emerging women leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean to come together in Mexico City for a one-week program in March 2014. The seventh Global Ambassadors Program and the first of 2014, the program once again paired mentees with mentors who are established leaders in the business, nonprofit, media or government sectors, and who helped their mentees to improve leadership skills, overcome obstacles and achieve strategic goals.
The participants met for one-on-one mentoring sessions and strategic planning workshops focused on building business acumen, and the program culminated with their participation in a mentoring walk on International Women’s Day. Discussion focused on ways to build a community of social and business leaders from the region who are poised to take their enterprises to the next level, with resulting economic benefits for them and their countries.
It’s not always the amount of time that matters—you can make a significant difference by sharing your perspective and expertise.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch
Ambassadors and mentees alike came away energized from their conversations. Ambassador Shelley Porges, co-chair of the National Finance Council, Ready for Hillary and Global Entrepreneurship Advocate, noted that she “didn’t realize what a transformative experience this would be, not just for the mentees but also for the mentors.” Although initially wondering how she could possibly help her very accomplished mentee Yemy S. Zonana—who has built a non-profit, Fundación ProEmpleo Productivo, A.C., over almost two decades with 13 locations and almost US $2.5million turnover—Shelley advised Yemy on ways to diversify her funding streams and balance personal responsibilities in order to ensure the sustainability of her business.
Similarly, Ambassador Gema Moreno, a partner in Enterprise Risk Services at Deloitte Mexico, noted some trepidation when reviewing mentee Grace Foster-Reid’s plan for her honey business, ECOFARMS Jamaica, as she didn’t have any knowledge in the space. However, after just a few days together, Gema noted that she felt like a “bee expert,” and she was able to use her years of experience to advise Grace on how to delegate tasks and resolve conflict quickly so that she could focus on business growth.
As the week came to a close, many of the mentors and mentees mentioned that the immersive experience had made them realize how large of an impact can be made even in a relatively short amount of time. Ambassador Karen Fang (managing director; head of Cross Asset Solutions & Strategies/Global Markets, Bank of America Merrill Lynch), who was paired with Xiomara Diaz Hopkins, a Nicaraguan restaurateur who owns The Garden Café with her husband in Granada, noted that she came away realizing “it’s not always the amount of time that matters—you can make a significant difference by sharing your perspective and expertise.” Fang and her mentee created a detailed plan to help bring costs down, increase profit margins and delegate tasks in order to free Xiomara up to concentrate on other areas of her business. Fang noted, “The key was listening to her challenges, understanding them and creating some actionable solutions so that she could move forward.”
All of the women affirmed that they found the experience immensely rewarding, and that they were looking forward to speaking to their mentees soon to hear about the results of their plans being put into action. In this way, the investment made will have an impact long after the women leave Mexico City. The relationships that were founded will continue to develop and benefit the Ambassadors and their mentees for years to come, just as they will ultimately benefit future generations of women as the participants pass along their newfound expertise, access to networks and mentoring skills.