Melanne Verveer, Vital Voices Co-Founder and Chair Emeritus and Alyse Nelson, Vital Voices President, CEO and Co-Founder at a press conference before the 2008 Global Leadership Awards.
For seventeen years, I have been in the business of investing in women's leadership, and at Vital Voices, I have seen the transformational impact of mentoring. Mentorship leads to leadership. It opens doors and catalyzes innovation. Mentors don't just share their knowledge -- they share the knowledge and power of their networks, something commonly referred to as 'borrowed social capital.' This is an exciting time for female mentorship. There is a generation of accomplished women around the world who have achieved more than they ever thought possible. Now, they are looking around and saying, "I want to give."
Yet, mentoring isn't just something one does to feel good. It's an investment. It requires a real plan that produces real results. This type of partnership is a strategy for actualization -- an essential building block of change and growth. And it's important.
As the number of women leaders grows, we are committed to the notion that their presence will create impact. In short, we don't just want women to have presence; we want women to have power, both in terms of leadership and in terms of voice. Mentorship is a critical mechanism to help women actually access power. Ultimately, it's about sharing power between two people.
I am personally a product of mentoring, and I am deeply aware that I would not be in the position I am in if it wasn't for powerful women -- in this country and around the world -- who mentored me and took a chance on me. For over 13 years, I was mentored by former Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer. She saw the leadership potential in me long before I saw it in myself. She has been a shareholder in both my victories and my disappointments.
I think one of the myths about mentoring is that it's about a person standing in front of you, holding your hand and guiding the way. In reality, I believe it's about the person who's ready to stand behind you, who believes in your vision and is ready to help you move forward. Mentors may not always be your cheerleaders, but they are always in your corner. Sometimes they throw you into the deep end of the pool. Sometimes, they just give you space to make your own mistakes. Good mentors celebrate your successes, but great mentors help you learn from your failures. They also help you realize that failure is not the opposite of success -- it is just a stepping-stone along the way.
I can't pay Melanne back for everything she's given me, so I choose to pay it forward. And that may be the ultimate power of mentoring -- it's transitive. Overwhelming evidence proves that a woman who has been mentored will go out and mentor others.
In the spirit of paying it forward, I hope that you will join Vital Voices and thousands of women around the globe on March 8th, International Women's Day, for our Global Mentoring Walks. Year after year, members of our Global Leadership Network host Mentoring Walks in cities around the world. This year, with Bank of America as our Global Sponsor, we will be hosting three U.S.-based walks in Washington D.C., San Francisco and Seattle. These national walks will allow established and emerging women leaders to walk together in their communities, sharing challenges and solutions in an environment of supportive networking.
Portions of this piece will be featured in the forthcoming "Mentorship Matters" collection, edited by Roselyn Swig.
Learn more about Vital Voices mentoring specific programs: Global Ambassadors Program, ANNPower, FORTUNE/U.S. State Department Global Women's Mentoring Partnership