Peer networks are essential for providing the support, inspiration, opportunities women leaders need to grow, both personally and professionally. At this year’s International Alumnae Component in Accra, Ghana, I was able to witness this firsthand.
This year, we convened 22 women leaders from six countries in Africa for a peer mentoring program to share best practices, brainstorm solutions to challenges, and form a regional network of women leaders. The program serves as a follow-up to the Fortune-U.S. Department of State Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership, and features American mentors and trainers who share their insights as successful businesswomen and leaders. This year, we were joined by mentors, Kim Kingsley, Co-Founder and Former COO of Politico, and Rahama Wright, Founder and CEO of Shea Yeleen Health and Beauty, as well as trainer, Kendall Clawson, Executive Director of the American Leadership Forum of Oregon.
When asked to highlight one of the most impactful aspects of the program, one participants responded that it was listening to people “share their stories, challenges, and triumphs. We’re all only just separated by geography and that at the end of the day, we all have the same challenges! It also pushed me to believe that I can, I have, and I will continue to succeed.”
Despite their different backgrounds, participants recognized their common experiences as women leaders. They were incredibly candid about their realities, not just to get feedback on approaches to challenges, but to help others grow from their insights. Throughout the course of the week, many tears were shed as the women formed a cadre of advisors they never had before and experienced a variety of surprising breakthroughs.
The program also included incredible opportunities to meet with Grace Amey-Obeng, CEO of FC Group of Companies Limited, one of West Africa’s most successful businesswomen and pioneer in Ghana’s beauty industry, and the U.S. Ambassador to Ghana, Robert P. Jackson. Grace began her company to fight skin bleaching with a start-up capital of $100, and today FC Group of Companies Limited is a multimillion-dollar empire operating throughout Africa and in the UK and Switzerland. Ambassador Robert P. Jackson generously hosted the participants for a reception at his residence in their honor and gave an emboldened speech about the importance of investing in women leaders and its impacts for ensuring a nation’s stability and prosperity.
As the participants returned home, it was evident they each had a renewed sense of energy and drive. As one participant explained, “The high level on program content, speakers and fellows was so relevant and this escalated my leadership skills and commitment to pay it forward.”
For me, it was a reminder of why I am proud to manage this program at Vital Voices: we invest in women leaders who really do improve the world.