Spotlighting the Cherie Blair Foundation and the power of mentorship

Bank of America partners with the Cherie Blair Foundation on its Mentoring Women in Business program to connect women small business leaders in Asia, Africa and the Middle East to mentoring expertise that will enable them to advance their business. The program has matched more than 2,000 women in developing and emerging countries to online mentors, including more than 400 Bank of America employees.

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Silvina Salazar strives to enable women to achieve their professional dreams through mentorship

Bank of America’s investment in women stretches beyond the diversity of our workforce and development of our employees to overall support for women’s economic empowerment. Through our partnership with the Cherie Blair Foundation’s Mentoring Women in Business Programme, we fulfill our commitment to both.

Silvina Salazar, a California-based Business Banking Sales Strategy & Performance executive, draws from both her personal and professional backgrounds when helping small business entrepreneurs through the program. Her upbringing in Argentina and Peru, combined with her time with Bank of America in Costa Rica and Mexico, have given her insight into the cultural norms that mentees face daily.

“Many girls face limited options and don’t have a strong support system in place to pursue their education or professional dreams,” Silvina explained. “I was fortunate. My parents raised me to believe that I could do anything I set my mind to and supported me in attending college.”

With 29 years of experience at Bank of America, Silvina realized she could help other women succeed in business. “At the bank, we may consider how we build and lead teams, our relentless focus on process improvement, and how we tie everything we do back to the customer as business as usual, but it may not be that way for others.”

Silvina’s upbringing helped her connect on a personal level with her first mentee, Iselie, who runs a company that provides security guards and alarm services to other businesses. Using the program’s online platform, they met virtually to work on the entrepreneur’s goals of learning how to improve processes, develop a three-year strategic plan and better manage her company’s financial plan.

Silvina and Iselie’s mentoring relationship enriched both women. Iselie said she not only gained the knowledge and skills to improve her company, but also felt more confident in her decision-making abilities and communication skills.

“I was humbled and inspired by her determination to succeed in a male-dominated industry and country,” Silvina said. “By serving as a mentor, I learned about the economic impact women entrepreneurs can have on their families and their communities. The experience also inspired me to give more and to continue coaching businesswomen throughout the different phases of my own life and career.”

Now Silvina mentors Alejandra, who runs a corporate communication services company in Honduras and is looking to expand her presence to the U.S. without compromising the quality of work she provides her clientele. To that end, Silvina has been guiding Alejandra on her strategic growth plan and on how to develop her new market opportunity.

Silvina is committed to helping women achieve their professional dreams through the Mentoring Women in Business Programme. “Even before signing up as a mentor, I knew I wanted to enable women to achieve their professional dreams — whatever they may be. I’m inspired to be able to explore my passion while working at Bank of America.”

Oluwakemi grows business with mentor Charu

Oluwakemi, a Nigerian entrepreneur, was shocked when she learned that one in ten women in Nigeria bleaches her skin, often subconsciously, with the products she uses. Insect bites can cause long-lasting scars, which leads the population to use such damaging products. Oluwakemi felt strongly that she wanted to provide a safe alternative for Nigerian women, so she developed a formulation for a moisturizing insect repellent. The product can be used both to soothe the skin and as a substitute for mosquito nets. After having developed this product, Oluwakemi launched her business, Crystal Skin Ventures Ltd, in 2014.

When Oluwakemi joined the Mentoring Women in Business Program in May 2016, she had already opened two skin treatment centers, but she found it challenging to manage the company’s operations, both in terms of developing her employees and obtaining funding to grow her business. Oluwakemi was matched with Charu, a Managing Director at Bank of America, based in the United States. Charu’s diverse experience in business planning and growth meant that she was a fantastic match to support Oluwakemi in reaching the next level with her business. Charu noted that the match was “perfect,” and the pair zeroed in on Oluwakemi’s challenges.

Prior to their partnership Oluwakemi hadn’t recorded any financial information, so Charu guided her in introducing sales charts, cash-flow books and an inventory logbook. With a better understanding of how to track her income and expenses, Oluwakemi was able to create a budget and work with an auditor to ensure that her accounts were in order. In addition to this, they revised Oluwakemi’s business plan, and once it was ready to share, Oluwakemi practiced her pitch in preparation for submitting funding applications to investors.

Turning their attention to employee development, Charu and Oluwakemi organized an in-house training session to build business knowledge to ensure consistent and high-quality services across company branches. Charu also supported Oluwakemi in introducing a reporting system for her staff, so even if she was away, she could be aware of the activity at both branches.

As a result of this hard work, Oluwakemi’s business has grown substantially and she feels much more confident in herself as a leader. In the first 12 months of working with Charu, Oluwakemi’s profits increased by 54%. She also successfully secured investment, enabling her to open a new branch in Lagos and hire seven new employees, including an account manager to maintain the financial processes she introduced. As Oluwakemi is now able to spend more time away from the office, she is working to increase the company’s profile and raise awareness of skin bleaching and the importance of skin care. Featured on a number of radio and television shows across the country, and through visiting local schools, Oluwakemi has become a voice for healthy skin, and for women’s empowerment.

Oluwakemi said, “Charu is an awesome mentor. I’m very fortunate to have someone who has genuine interest in my personal and business growth. Being a mentee of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women is indeed the best thing that has happened to me in recent years.”

Charu loved how Oluwakemi was extremely open and receptive to ideas, saying, “It was great to see tangible results from our mentoring sessions. Oluwakemi leads with more confidence now and has learned that the key skill when managing others is patience.”

Emphasizing the two-way approach to mentoring, Charu also described the benefit of being a mentor. She said, “Working with Kemi and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women has been an extremely rewarding experience. Not only was it thrilling to see Kemi’s business grow, the experience made me a better manager and mentor at Bank of America as I learned valuable lessons in patience and developing an understanding of the many challenges others face.”

Having developed a strong friendship and being eager to keep up the momentum, Oluwakemi and Charu continued on for a second year in the program together. They graduated in June 2018, and Oluwakemi’s determination for Charu to see her succeed with Crystal Skin Ventures Ltd., continues to motivate her. Looking forward, Oluwakemi aims to certify her product and launch it across international markets.

From a dream to reality – Aidy made it happen

Ever since she was a young girl, Aidy Raju has loved to cook, and has always dreamed of owning her own shop. Looking for a new source of income to support her mother and son, Aidy decided to put her cooking skills into action and start her own catering company. Although she didn’t have the capital to launch a formal enterprise, she took small steps and started Aidy’s Good Food in 2014 from her home. After making her first sale of 30 hot dogs she steadily began to build her client base.

When Aidy joined the Mentoring Women in Business Program in May 2015, she didn’t have any formal business training and was looking for support to efficiently structure her business and find ways to grow it.

Through a partnership with Bank of America, Aidy was matched with Ileana Musa, a Client and Strategy Executive at Bank of America in the United States. Ileana has experience in business planning, sales and communications, and was an ideal match for Aidy. Bank of America has been a pivotal partner in the development of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women’s Mentoring Program, which has now enabled over 2,500 women entrepreneurs to access personalized support through 1:1 mentoring and an online support and learning platform.

The pair quickly developed a strong relationship as they worked together to achieve Aidy’s goals. Ileana supported Aidy as she carried out market research to identify existing businesses in the sector, determine her competitive advantage, and position her company accordingly. They developed her business plan and created a marketing strategy to attract new corporate clients, whilst also discussing delegation and management techniques.

Now, less than two years later, Aidy’s company offers all types of cuisine and includes everything from wedding cakes to food platters. She is now catering multiple corporate events per month, as well as weddings, school events and other small functions. Her revenue has increased tenfold and she has hired an employee to help her with food preparation. As her sales increase, Aidy invests her profits back into her business and is working towards a range of health and safety certifications to help her formalize and grow her company.

Alongside gaining confidence in her own abilities, Aidy also learned key management and ICT skills through working with Ileana. Aidy said, “Before I started the program, I felt like somebody who was learning to read for the first time. I was unsure of myself and having goals like a business plan seemed like a mountain. Ileana has taught me so much.”

Ileana said it’s been an honor and privilege to work with Aidy and she emphasized how much she has learned as a mentor, including gaining knowledge of a new culture and market, developing communication skills and building her own confidence.

Looking to the future, Aidy is keen to move into proper premises to grow her business and become a leader in the food industry.

“A two-way success story” – meet Suubi and her mentor Samridhi

Suubi has a love of fashion design, which includes everything from creating conceptual sketches to bringing intricate patterns to life. After studying art and design at university in Kampala, Uganda, Suubi was keen to turn her vision into reality. In 2009, just a couple years after graduating, Suubi set up shop in her parents’ garage and launched her clothing company, Suu-Bee Ltd.

For the first couple of years, Suubi focused on selling corporate and high street wear, as well as designing bespoke pieces for her clients. As she gained confidence in her designs, she wanted to expand her business and create her own mass-produced clothing line. However, without any formal business training and limited access to capital, Suubi didn’t know where to start. When she joined the Mentoring Women in Business Program in 2014, she had just moved into a studio space and was looking for support to write a business plan and diversify her products.

Through a partnership with Bank of America, Suubi was matched with Samridhi Sarin, Director of Global Financial Crimes Compliance at Bank of America in the United States. Bank of America has been a pivotal partner in the development of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women’s Mentoring Program, which has now enabled over 2,500 women entrepreneurs to access personalized support through 1:1 mentoring and an online support and learning platform.

With a wealth of expertise in business planning and product development, Samridhi was keen to support Suubi to achieve her goals. The pair first looked at Suubi’s vision, identifying options for product development. Suubi decided to focus on developing an affordable line of blouses, which, as a staple product, would have the potential to provide a consistent income. Samridhi encouraged Suubi to start small and test the market before scaling up to avoid any unnecessary debt.

With a new business plan and strategy in place, Suubi was able to start sourcing local materials, identify women to outsource production to, and research market value and competition to set an appropriate price for the blouses. The pair also worked together to create a new website and Facebook page to help Suubi increase her company’s visibility and market her products.

Over the course of the year, Suubi successfully launched her new line of blouses, gained more than 11 new clients and gained over 700 likes on her Facebook page. She has also continued to expand her product range, which now includes beautiful wedding dresses that are available to rent.

According to Suubi, one of the most important skills she learned from her mentoring relationship was how to take a big vision and break it down into individual steps and goals. She said, “Samridhi has been my sounding board and as an impartial listener, her encouragement has been amazing. With her pushing I was accountable to someone and had no excuse for procrastination; that has been the best!”

Samridhi also really enjoyed the mentoring relationship and said, “I am so proud of Suubi. Mentoring her has developed me as a person. We are opposites in personality so we complemented each other and this helped us learn and grow from each other. It’s a two-way success story of personal growth for the mentor while helping the mentee realize her dream.”

Samridhi reported that being a mentor not only helped her to build her leadership and communication skills, but also reminded her of the importance of flexibility and letting go. As a perfectionist, Samridhi said she often gets caught up by the fear of failure, but Suubi’s vision and tenacity has inspired her to finally pursue her dream of writing a book.

Optimistic about the future, Suubi is determined to continue growing her business to become a fashion hub in East Africa.

Learn more about Suubi’s business.

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