This past week, five deeply engaged Global Ambassadors – Wendy Luhabe, Inez McCormack, Denise Menelly, Jennifer Taylor and Ann Veneman – gathered in Cape Town, South Africa to mentor six top women leaders of Vital Voices Global Leadership Network (GLN) and to work with over a dozen of the Network’s most accomplished women.
GLN members came from Burma, Argentina, Russia, Guatemala, Jordan, Hong Kong, the United States, Ghana, and beyond, to advance the dialogue on women’s voice and agency, implement a follow-on plan to increase the number of women leaders, and catalyze their presence into decision-making power.
According to Global Ambassador Wendy Luhabe, “[t]he idea, that the ‘Platform for Transforming Presence into Power’ can be replicated all over the world, makes what we are doing here very powerful.”
Over three days, Ambassadors and mentees worked to define the challenges, refine the topic and develop a strategy going forward for the three topic areas, including government, the private sector and civil society.
The conversations were rich, with a multitude of perspectives and experiences radiating from each group. While several themes permeated the discussion, one defined the very core of the Global Ambassadors Program: Mentorship leads to leadership.
When looking at leadership through the lens of decision-making power, the role of mentorship is critical to turning mere presence into power.
Women in positions of power do not necessarily have a voice, let alone the power associated with the position. Mentoring can impact decision-making power by providing leaders with tools to build their capacity in areas that will make them more effective leaders.
Leaders – women and men – must “pay it forward” by investing in women leaders: those whom are already in positions of power, and those on the cusp of reaching them. Mentorship can enable these women leaders to follow their instincts, make their voices heard, and drive forward initiatives that will bring both women and men up the leadership pipeline.
The mentorship/leadership connection as a pathway to true power was reinforced on Friday, June 29, at the program’s public forum: “Emerging Trends in Women’s Global Leadership.”
Framing the issues, Richard Gush, the Country Executive for South Africa at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, reinforced the Bank’s commitment to driving positive economic and social change – in South Africa and worldwide – by leveraging its expansive network to invest in developing leaders through mentorship.
He was followed by U.S. Consul General Erica Barks-Ruggles, who noted, “It is just smart foreign policy to empower women.”
The forum’s keynote was delivered by the CEO of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Nicky Newton-King. While Nicky acknowledged that there are far too few women in leadership positions, she shifted the discussion to the need to develop, expand and empower more women in lower level positions of power. The challenge, Nicky proposed, isn’t about creating women role models, but is about expanding the “diversity of the workforce” and then enabling this group of rising women leaders to charge forward.
The forum concluded with the Global Ambassadors Program panel, moderated by Vital Voices President and CEO Alyse Nelson, which gave all of the Global Ambassadors and their mentees a public platform from which they brought to life the five principles of the Vital Voices leadership model.
The 11 represented the program, but the mentees in particular, who exemplify some of Vital Voices’ most exceptional leaders, reinforced the power – and necessity – of mentoring, even for women at the top.
The Cape Town program was transformational in so many ways. Ambassadors laid the foundation for mentoring relationships, but also developed a new source of support between them as they impacted the leadership paths of the mentees – Brigitte Dzogbenuku, Andeisha Farid, Maria Gabriela Hoch, Noha Khatieb, Liron Pileg-Hadomi and Yin Myo Su.
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