"What young entrepreneur would not want the opportunity to mingle with giants in the business?" asks Madiha Sultan, CEO of Lals Chocolates -- a luxury chocolate business based in Karachi, Pakistan which she founded with her mother in 2006. Her company has retail outlets in Karachi and Lahore and has developed a successful corporate gift program for holidays. Madiha was one of 26 women selected earlier this year to participate in the Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women's Mentoring Partnership.
Madiha's mentor was Kathleen Vaughan, Executive Vice President for Wells Fargo's Wholesale Mortgage Division, who says one of her motivations in signing up to mentor global women is to show them "the most important factor is not 'me' but the village in which we work, which then becomes a confidence booster. I want these women to see what is possible by meeting with many successful women who manage risk and make tough decisions. Madiha very much wants to be a free woman charting her own destiny in a culture that makes it difficult; we're here to show her options."
On her part, Madiha left her three week shadowing experience with Kathleen, and various other mentors she was introduced to, with some clear ideas of the importance of strategy and ideas for developing an export business, but most of all, she says she learned "you don't have to be an aggressive, obnoxious person to get ahead. I now see my own management style is an advantage."
Madiha Sultan's group of 26 emerging women leaders gathered in Washington in May for orientation before going on to spend three weeks with their mentors throughout the U.S. Since the program began in 2006, about 220 women in senior positions at companies including Google, Time Inc, Walmart, American Express, Accenture, and Dow Chemical, as well as law and financial firms, have mentored 174 women from 42 countries. To apply, the women from emerging nations must be between the ages of 25-43 and speak fluent English; they must either run their own businesses, work in management positions, or run nongovernmental organizations. This fall, applications will be accepted for the 2012 program; recruitment is processed through embassies in designated participating countries. For general information, here's a link.
Another of Kathleen Vaughan's mentees, Lola Scotta from Buenos Aires, says participation in the program gave her the encouragement to accept a promotion she was subsequently offered as field marketing manager for SAB Miller, the second largest beer company in the world, for which she has responsibility for 4 countries in South America. Lola says when men are offered promotions, "they say yes, even if the position is more challenging. With me I always hesitate because I'm not sure if I can do it. After the program I knew I could do it. " Someday Lola hopes to start a business magazine. She stays in touch weekly with Kathleen Vaughan, her U.S. mentor, who says she soon realized "Lola had the gusto to do more." Lola observes "it was so exciting to sit in on meetings with Kathleen to see how she could be so sensitive but yet very focused. She has broadened my perspective on what I am capable of. It was awesome."
Program mentors seem to share the awe. Kathi Lutton, a lead litigation partner at Fish & Richardson, the country's largest intellectual property law firm, asked herself "how could I not be a mentor? Mentoring women leaders across the globe seems right for the times." One of her first mentees, Susan Rammekwa runs an orphanage in South Africa for 200 children whose parents have died from HIV/Aids. After being mentored by Kathi and co mentors Megan Smith and Susan Wojcicki of Google who connected her to a network of some 50 women in Silicon Valley, Susan determined to make her orphanage self-sustaining; upon her return, she organized village women to sew garments for her children and next to sell the garments within the community to make money to support her orphanage. She has also begun operating a bakery with a bread machine purchased through contributions from her U.S. network. Another mentee of the Silicon Valley threesome, is Gaelle Pierre, co-founder of a technology company in Port Au Prince, Haiti as well as founder of a cactus and orchids business which makes liquors and jams. Recently, Gaelle, founded a foundation to empower children and young adults to become entrepreneurs.
A foremost objective of the global women's program is to "pay forward" or to encourage the women to empower other women in their countries upon their return. Manal Elattir from Rabat, Morocco founded an NGO, called IMDAD (Arabic for support) to motivate young people and women to become innovative social entrepreneurs by starting out working within their communities. For a recent project, Manal organized a caravan of 23 village women from Southern Morocco, where the literacy rate for women is 89 percent, who left their homes for a week to talk to women in other villages to discuss possibilities for marketing artisanal crafts. The hardest part, says Manal, was convincing husbands to let them leave. Ultimately, Manal hopes the women will eventually form cooperatives to market their crafts beyond their village boundaries.
Kathi Lutton, who also mentored Manal, observes "Manal was so receptive with an instinctive grasp of how to connect so that after she was here for a few days, she started setting up her own meetings to connect with other women." Manal says the program "made me realize I had an obligation, because I had the capacity to communicate business skills, to put some structure around my ideas. My mentors taught me how to market my social enterprise and how to reach potential partners and sponsors. Manal's next goal is to get an MBA to hone her financial skills to help her programs become self-supporting.
Madiha Sultan adds, "They really hammer in how important it is to give back to our communities. Besides expanding her chocolate business, Madiha has started an adult literacy and numeracy program. Professionally, she is a member of the Karachi Women's Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "I want to do the same thing for the young girls in Pakistan," says Madiha, "that Kathleen Vaughan, and the people she introduced me to, did for me."
For more on women entrepreneurs, visit www.wStartup.com