Mexico 2014: Empowering business women in Latin America and the Caribbean

The first Global Ambassadors Program of 2014 will be held in Mexico City this March, focusing on furthering the economic empowerment of women business leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean. While the region’s efforts to close the gender gap compare relatively well to other areas of the world, women still face barriers to economic success with regard to employment, productivity, and poverty. Women business owners often own small firms, with fewer than five employees. Connecting women entrepreneurs to broader networks and training to integrate them into global supply chains can create a powerful long-term impact in the region.

During the program, participants will engage in one-on-one mentoring sessions with Global Ambassadors and training sessions throughout the week that will strengthen their understanding of factors and best practices that can empower women to contribute to their countries’ economies. Additionally, participants, Global Ambassadors, Bank of America employees, and women leaders from various industries will participate in a Global Mentoring Walk on March 8, International Women’s Day, to highlight the importance of women’s leadership. In recognition of the importance of mentorship, Bank of America is sponsoring Global Mentoring Walks in cities around the world on International Women’s Day, including Mexico City and Washington, D.C.

To learn more about the event, read updates on our blog or read more about the participants in their featured bios below.

Mexico Global Ambassadors

Sandra Slavkis
General Manager Business Development
Danone, Argentina

Mentoring Denise Abulafia

In 1997, Sandra joined the Nutricia/Danone Group. For the past 16 years she has grown with the organization, moving upward and constantly increasing her responsibilities. She has been managing director for Nutricia-Bago Argentina; managing director of Baby Nutrition for Danone Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Chile; and general manager of Danone Argentina and New Countries LatAm for baby nutrition. She currently acts as Danone Argentina’s general manager of business development.

Denise Abulafia
Founder and CEO, Educatina
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Denise Abulafia was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She graduated from the University of Buenos Aires, School of Biochemistry in 2003. She received her Ph.D in Cellular and Molecular Biology at the University of Miami (Florida, US) where she specialized in neuroscience.

Denise lived in Mexico for five years where she was an associate professor in Proteomics at the University of Anahuac, School of Medicine. A few years later, she began her entrepreneurial career developing Pharma Educational Services, a consulting company specializing in scientific programs of medical education. She has published numerous research papers in leading journals in her area of specialization and developed much educational content in digital formats.

Denise returned to Argentina in early 2011 focused on creating a new venture that would generate a significant regional impact in education. Educatina was founded in mid-2011 with a small founding team, generating a platform with high production capacity of high-quality educational content and a massive call for students in Latin America.

María Fernanda Villamarin
Regional Manager of Ancosur Countries & General Manager of Colombia at Galderma
Galderma, Colombia

Mentoring Yanina Faour

María Fernanda Villamarín is the Regional Manager of the Andean Region and the General Manager of Colombia at Galderma, a Dermatology Laboratory in Bogotá, Colombia. María has extensive experience in the field of multinational pharmaceuticals after an impressive 34 year career during which she was the Pharmaceutical Division Director at Abbott Laboratories and at Parke-Davis, where she managed cardiovascular and new product launches.

Yanina Faour
Jewelry Designer and Owner, Oleana
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Yanina Faour is an artistic jewelry designer and fourth generation jeweler; she creates intimate pieces inspired by her affection for the fine arts and architecture of the city called “The Paris of Latin America.”

Yanina was raised in Buenos Aires, spent her student years in Boston, and now lives back in Buenos Aires. Her collections, handcrafted locally, are made of extravagant fine jewelry with sculptural character. Yanina uses Art Deco and Art Nouveau among other aesthetics connected with spiritual and esoteric meaning.

Yanina is the "enfant terrible" of fine luxury jewelry in Argentina. In 2003, she created her brand boutique Oleana, which was selected by the cosmetics French company Guerlain as a reference for its brand in Argentina. She has presented her pieces internationally, in Workshop Fashion Agency, during Paris fashion week and in the Tokyo “Rooms” Show.

Oleana's jewelry is currently sold in many countries including Uruguay, Dominican Republic, the United States, England and France.

Rosa María Barreiro
Senior Management Advisor, Inter-American Development Bank (IADB)
Washington, DC, USA

Mentoring Laura Patiño Mejia

Rosa Maria Barreiro is a dynamic multicultural leader and business strategist with a wealth of experience and expertise in change management, leadership development and strategic HR programs. Barreiro has more than ten years of experience leading diverse projects, managing multidisciplinary teams and delivering business solutions in the Latin America and the Caribbean region.

Laura Patiño Mejia
General Manager, Picados San Juan La Unión
Antioquia, Colombia

Laura Patiño Mejía is the manager of Picados San Juan, an agro processing business that produces ready to eat, cut and packaged fruits and vegetables. Since 2006 Ms. Patiño has been responsible for running the business, strategic planning, project formulation and the overall performance of the company including marketing, management, evaluation and reporting to the board, among others.

Additionally, Ms. Patiño is part of other networks, where she participates in projects to empower businesswomen in her town of Antioquia, Colombia. She has participated in several entrepreneurship competitions, in which she has obtained very good results that have allowed her to grow her business and projects.

Guadalupe Castañeda
Partner and Mexico and Central America Strategic Growth Markets Leader, EY Mexico
Mexico City, Mexico

Mentoring Maria Claudia Vargas Solano

Guadalupe is a Partner at EY Mexico. She is based in Mexico City and serves as the Strategic Growth Markets Leader for Mexico and Central America, focused on entrepreneurship and high-growth companies. As part of her role, she is a mentor for Endeavor, New Ventures Mexico and Wayra. She serves as President of the Advisory board of WEConnect Mexico. She is also currently serving as Independent Board member of the seed capital investment fund that was launched in 2012 by Mexico’s Ministry of Economy and Nacional Financiera. Her 22 years of financial and IT audit and consulting experience is crucial in advising companies on their growth plans and needs.

Maria Claudia Vargas Solano
Owner and Co-Founder, The Gluten Free Factory
Cartago, Costa Rica

María Claudia Vargas Solano is the Owner and Co-Founder of The Gluten Free Factory, which specializes in healthy and tasty gluten- free food products for people with celiac diseases and other gluten-dependent diseases, athletes, and for those who want to have a healthier diet.

The Gluten Free Factory started in 2008 and since then has won several awards for innovation, quality and entrepreneurship. Currently, The Gluten Free Factory offers products such as cooking mixes for bread, pizza, pancakes, waffles, brownies, cakes, cookies; and products in the lines of bakery, pasta and sauces, as well as custom foods.

Joyce Ventura
Film Producer

Mentoring Celia Duron

Joyce co-founded the film and advertising production company UNO Ltda in 1971 in Bogotá. Since then she has produced 12 feature films and worked on more than 2,000 advertising spots for clients such as Pepsi-Cola, Marlboro and Renault, among others. More recently she has been involved in the founding of the film- production channel G3, an international partnership project between Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela.

Celia Duron
CEO, Inversiones Ecologicas
Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Celia Duron is a biologist with a degree from the National University of Honduras. She is the CEO of Inversiones Ecologicas, a company that develops innovative green products from recycled paper and agricultural waste.

Since 2010, Celia has been in charge of different areas of the company including design, supervision of the manufacturing process of raw materials, production, quality control and customer service. Inversiones Ecologicas has three divisions—Social Events, Crafts, and Corporate Gifts. The Social Events division produces items such as stationery cards and scrapbooks; the Crafts division sells notebooks, bookmarks and coasters; and the Corporate Gifts division produces cards, awards and other corporate gifts.

Gema Moreno Vega
Partner, Deloitte & Touche LLP

Mentoring Grace Foster-Reid

Gema Morena Vega is a partner at Deloitte Mexico’s Consulting Division, Galaz, Yamazaki, Ruiz, & Urquiza (GYRU). She has provided services on a range of issues including the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, internal auditing, and risk in the life sciences and healthcare industries. She is a 2008 Eisenhower Fellow whose worked explored leadership development, human resources programs, and entrepreneurial and business education for youth. She is former CEO of the auditing company KPMG Wessel Ganzevoort.

Grace Foster-Reid
Managing Director, ECOFARMS Jamaica
Mandeville, Jamaica

Grace manages and owns a Jamaican honey company, ECOFARMS, which produces Buzz Honey Wine & HoneyStix. With a vision to employ 100 people and a budget for one full-time and seven part-time staff, Grace is also the Chief Beekeeper, Master Blender, Accountant and Research & Development Officer.

Grace is an MIT-trained Engineer who, in addition to working part-time at ECOFARMS, serves as a Project Manager for the National Water Commission's multimillion dollar infrastructure project.

Grace previously ran EnvironMed, an engineering consulting company where she managed several sustainable development projects. During her time at the local bauxite plants, she started as an Environmental Engineer and was promoted through the ranks to Technical Manager.

Julie Harris
CFO of Global Commercial Banking at Bank of America
Mentoring Margarita Robles-Martinez

Julie is currently the CFO of global commercial banking at Bank of America where she leads the finance teams for middle market banking, Bank of America Business Capital, specialized industries, client analytics, and commercial real estate banking. In 2008 she joined Treasury Finance to redesign funds transfer pricing (FTP) across the entire balance sheet. She is actively a mentor in the Cherie Blair program and involved in the community with fundraising efforts for the Levine Children’s Hospital and the Wings Scholarship Program of Women Executives, Charlotte chapter.

Margarita Robles-Martinez
Co-Founder and COO, Cohesión Comunicación & Marketing
Mexico City, Mexico

Margarita co-founded Cohesión Comunicación & Marketing, a boutique agency that provides strategic counseling, marketing and communication services for companies and organizations within the travel industry. As COO, she guides and coordinates the work of 20 professionals that serve various Mexican states such as Guanajuato, Michoacán, Estado de México and Chiapas. Additionally, she oversees all administrative operations.

Margarita has a Bachelor’s of communications and mass media. Prior to founding Cohesión, she was responsible for pan-Latin American communications programs for companies within the technology and banking sectors and was based in Miami, Florida.

K. Shelly Porges
Global Strategy and Marketing Advisor, Entrepreneurship, Partnerships and Business Development
Mentoring Yemy Smeke Zonana

K. Shelly Porges is an investor and a global strategy and marketing advisor for entrepreneurship, partnerships and business development for a number of non-profit and for-profit organizations. She is the former senior advisor and director of the U.S. State Department’s Global Entrepreneurship Program (GEP), executive head of marketing for American Express Canada, and chief retail marketing officer at Bank of America. Additionally, she founded or co-founded several start-up ventures, including Third Age Media, Scudder Weisel Capital LLC, and Global Payments Experts LLC, among others.

Yemy Smeke Zonana
General Manager, Fundacion ProEmpleo Productivo, A.C.
Mexico City, Mexico

Yemy S. Zonana became the Executive Director of Fundacion ProEmpleo in 2000. Since then, Mrs. Smeke has focused her efforts on positioning ProEmpleo as the most inclusive, affordable and steady choice for Mexicans looking for business training and consultancy to start or develop their own microenterprises.

In recognition of her leading role promoting an entrepreneurial culture among Mexican society, Mrs. Smeke received the Ibero Award for Social Leadership in 2012 from the Universidad Iberoamericana.

Mrs. Smeke has given conferences on human development, entrepreneurship and micro business management in different forums. She participates weekly in one of the most popular Mexican radio news programs at Radio Formula.

She has a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Universidad Iberoamericana and graduated from the Executive Management Program at IPADE Business School.

Karen Fang
Managing Director, Head of Cross Asset Solutions & Strategies/Global Markets, Bank of America Merrill Lynch
New York, NY, USA

Mentoring Xiomara Diaz Hopkins

Karen Fang is managing director and head of the Cross Asset Solutions & Strategies Group in the Americas at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Karen and her team work across the firm’s fixed income and equity platforms to develop and distribute investment and hedging solutions for all client segments. She is also responsible for managing the distribution of cross asset solutions for Asian pensions and sovereign wealth funds.

Xiomara Diaz Hopkins
Founder and Owner, The Garden Café
Granada, Nicaragua

Xiomara Diaz is the founder and owner of The Garden Café, a small inspirational cafe-restaurant located in Granada, Nicaragua and based on a blend of healthy Californian and Nicaraguan cuisine. Since 2007 she has worked on the creation of the business model for The Garden Café, operational tasks, food and service quality control aspects, human resources--hiring and development, marketing, networking and development of new products.

Along with an extraordinary local team, largely composed of women, she has taken The Garden Café from being a small 4-person operation deli-style café to a 25-person operation restaurant. The Garden Café has become a must see, must visit restaurant in Granada, but more importantly, it has become a reference for a sustainable tourism business model.

Mrs. Diaz’s Garden Café has become a vehicle for social change; an important element in their business objectives is to be key actors in their community by intentionally being responsible and by participating in the identification of social and development challenges and the implementation of solutions to them.


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