Skip to Content Skip to Navigation

Sarah works with her group during the Vital Voices Leadership Model training.

27 emerging businesswomen leaders from seventeen different countries came together this spring to participate in the 2013 Fortune/US State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership. During the month-long program mentees were engaged in trainings and networking events, and were paired with mentors who are some of FORTUNE’s Most Powerful Women. The program is designed to equip mentees with the skills to build better businesses, and inspire them to pay it forward and accelerate positive change in their home communities.

Program alumnae Sarah Beydoun of Lebanon and Hema Vallabh of South Africa are leveraging their organizations to support women in their own communities.

A social entrepreneur, Sarah started a handbag company, Sarah’s Bag, in her hometown of Beirut, which incorporates a rehabilitation program for women previously in prison. Sarah provides these women financial independence by training them as handbag artisans and providing them employment through her company.  She was mentored by Kay Krill, CEO of ANN INC. in New York. 

A continent away, Hema is motivating and empowering the next generation of women to pursue engineering careers, a field that is overwhelmingly dominated by men. As one of few women engineers in South Africa, Hema runs a non-profit organization, South African Women in Engineering (SAWomEng), that addresses this issue through mentorship and education programs for young women studying engineering.  She provides networking opportunities so that these young women can meet and learn from leaders in the engineering field.  Hema spent her mentorship with Bridget van Kralingen, the Senior Vice President of Global Business Services at IBM.

In this blog post, Sarah and Hema share some of their key insights from the Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership:



SARAH: Beginning with the Vital Voices Leadership Model training, I began to rethink my idea of leadership. The legacy of the authoritative leader has been overturned in favor of a more inclusive sort of leadership, a style that women exemplify.

Alyse Nelson, President & CEO of Vital Voices told us, “Leadership isn’t just about success, it’s about significance.” I have felt this way about Sarah’s Bag for a long time. It’s not about how many bags we produce or sell, but rather, how many lives we change in the process. My mentor Kay is a great example. Kay made it her mission to run a company that empowers women because she believes that she is in turn empowering families, communities, and businesses. During my two weeks with Kay at ANN INC., I saw that this mission was visible in every aspect of the company.  It guided every decision, every meeting, and every employee. It’s more than just a way to make a living; our businesses are our way of serving our communities.



HEMA: During the program with Vital Voices, Beth Brooke, Global Vice Chair for Public Policy at Ernst & Young, said, “I steal everything. I’m an amalgamation of everyone I meet.Mentorship doesn’t always have to be through formal or structured channels. Mentorship can be any engagement with an individual or group who is willing to guide you and from whom you are willing to learn. As leaders, it is up to us to facilitate these mentorships, which are often the most powerful.  

It’s for this reason that SAWomEng invests in mentoring the next generation. In South Africa, there is a shortage of engineers, especially women engineers: estimates from the Engineering Council of South Africa show that in 2012 South Africa had only one engineer for every 3,100 people, and among the nearly 15,000 registered professional engineers, women accounted for only 3%.

Through mentoring programs for high school girls, education programs and networking opportunities, SAWomEng addresses this issue and aims to increase the number of women engineers in our country.

Hema engages with women in government during a panel discussion at the U.S. State Department. 


HEMA: Above all else, the greatest thing I took away from the program was the network I left with. These 26 phenomenal women (each no doubt their country’s next leading CEOs, Presidents, and leaders of change), have enhanced my life in such a special way. We are from seventeen different countries, a multitude of cultural backgrounds, and an age range spanning almost 20 years, yet the program was a golden thread that bonded us all. These women are so much more than a network to me. I am proud to call them my friends. I find a great deal of comfort knowing that I have so much support from all corners of the world.

SARAH: The world we are living in today needs more women leaders, but this can only be achieved if women build networks of other women and empower the next generation of women leaders.

Being a part of this network – and Vital Voices’ Global Leadership Network – is something that I will continue to leverage to help achieve my goals.


SARAH: When I returned home, I felt incredibly empowered, rebooted, and ready to give back and share my experience with as many people as possible. I decided to pay it forward by launching a small-scale mentoring program through Sarah’s Bag.  I will mentor five young women who have demonstrated commitment to their communities. Following the two week mentorship on social entrepreneurship, the mentees will be charged with creating a project that improves their communities.

HEMA:  During the program I learned that you do not need to have a lot of money or tackle a huge global issue to pay it forward. I pay it forward in my community by starting conversations about women’s empowerment and what that actually means. My contribution to the conversation creates a positive chain reaction, which helps me pursue my mission of giving back to my community.

Learn more about the 2013 Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership and follow Sarah and Hema on Twitter: @sarahsbag   @HemsVallabh