“No one of us is as good as all of us. We need to gather wisdom from each other.”
That’s how Beth Brooke, Ernst & Young global vice chair of public policy, opened her session at the start of the Global Ambassadors Program in Singapore. What better way to capture what I was about to experience?
It’s been a week since I returned from Singapore, as part of the Vital Voices and Bank of America’s Global Ambassadors Program, an initiative that brings together women business leaders and aspiring women entrepreneurs. Vital Voices is a groundbreaking NGO that aims to empower women in business, politics and civil society. The six-day program focused on mentorship and the power of networks, with a chief goal of helping women entrepreneurs to expand and grow their businesses. Six mentors from the U.S., Japan and Vietnam joined six mentees from several Southeast Asian countries including Burma, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines. The mentees came from a range of organizations, including a social enterprise focused on girls’ education, a digital consultancy and a small foods manufacturing firm.
Among many other highlights, one of the most powerful aspects of the week was having the opportunity to witness a true corporate responsibility program from the “inside.” Over the past several years, I’ve helped develop and promote a number of CSR (corporate social responsibility) campaigns and programs, including Avon’s Hello Green Tomorrow, Warner Bros.’ We Can Be Heroes campaign, and the recent launch of 10×10’s Girl Rising, a film and social campaign funded by Intel. But this time I got to be an actual participant in a CSR program and experience it in real time.
Bank of America chose to partner with Vital Voices for a variety of key reasons, including helping build women business leaders of tomorrow and developing real networks of engaged professionals in strategic global regions. However, after spending a week with several members of the BofA team, it was clear to me that this was more than just a marketing exercise and a mission tied to the company’s business goals and culture. The program spans five years and features four mentorship trips to different regions of the world where mentors and mentees are brought together to share knowledge and experiences.
Each day during the program, we reviewed and diagnosed the mentees’ business plans and provided our ideas and suggestions for future growth. We discussed their ambitions, goals, dreams and desires. Although the mentees were already quite well established, they clearly benefitted from our outside perspectives and new ideas. And it was an incredible learning experience for the mentors as well. At the end of the trip, lasting bonds were formed and powerful connections were secured. Many emails are already flying around the world as we each are in touch with our respective “partners.”
For a CSR program to be effective, it must be tied to the core mission of a company, be integral to its business model and be measureable in its effects. The Vital Voices and Bank of America Global Ambassadors program clearly reflects that and more. Each entrepreneur went home with invaluable tips and strategies to improve their business practices and each mentor left with an enriched network, plus multitudes of new ideas to take back to the workplace. Vital Voices was able to continue its important mission and the Bank certainly helped grow its network and change lives.
Susan McPherson (top image, left) is senior vice president/director of global marketing, Fenton Communications in New York. She mentors Radziah Radzi of Malaysia.