State Department Program Opens Doors for World's Businesswomen

By Judy Aita
USINFO Staff Writer

New York - Thirty-two of America's most successful women executives mentored 32 young female business leaders from 21 countries as part of the second annual International Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership.

The program - run by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women Summit, and Vital Voices Global Partnership - gives gifted young businesswomen the opportunity to develop leadership, management and business skills and gain experience in the U.S. business world.

Participants from Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, China, Egypt, Gaza, Ghana, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lebanon, Nepal, Nigeria, Peru, Poland, Russia, Rwanda, South Africa, Vietnam, the Palestinian Territories and Zimbabwe spent time with executives from a wide range of U.S. companies.

On May 24, the women shared experiences at a farewell gathering and press conference hosted by Ann Moore, chief executive officer (CEO) of Time Inc.  Moore, the first executive to agree to be a mentor in 2006, was a 2007 mentor as well.

"We have found that women are the best partners.  Women are the greatest catalysts for transforming societies," Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Dina Habib Powell, co-founder of the program, said at the press conference. An additional benefit, Powell said, is that the women come to the United States as unofficial ambassadors and "teach Americans that there is a tremendous history and heritage and culture from which they come."

"Not only do these young women learn from their mentors, but by sharing skills and experiences, they strengthen each other's leadership," added Patricia Sellers, chair of Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit, who, along with Powell, originated the program. Participants in the program forged "not just professional, 9 to 5 relationships but personal relationships," Sellers said.

Moore said she still "talks" with her 2006 protégé almost every week by e-mail, adding, "No matter where we come from, there are many more similarities than differences.

"A lot of us are working parents; we have the same issues. We need to learn to communicate … how to run an organization and inspire people to do things sometimes they don't want to do.  We learn to never give up and we learn the fundamentals of leadership," Moore said.

Aashmi Rana, managing director of Himali Pashmina Udhyog in Kathmandu, Nepal, said the experience has changed her perspective.  "I will no longer be content just to advance myself.  I now know clearly that I have a responsibility to make sure that other women in business - in all of Nepal - are given a voice in what happens and are able to contribute to the betterment of my country."

Rana had high praise for her mentor, Jacqueline Kosecoff, CEO of Ovations Pharmacy Solutions/United Health Group.  Visiting Kosecoff’s home, she said, she saw a focused and dynamic business leader easily shift roles to become a nurturing parent and spouse.

Germaine Gicanda said that through her mentor - Patricia Fili-Krushel, executive vice president of administration at Time Warner Inc. - she learned how women view their careers and "how to work hard to get to your objective."


Rashmi Tiwari, associate director of the American Chamber of Commerce in India, said that her mentorship will not end in New York.  She has assignments from her mentors, Anne Mulcahy, CEO of Xerox, and Sophie Vandebroek, chief technology officer of Xerox. "Don't ever give up” is the most important lesson she learned, Tiwari said.  “We may not get the successes in our lifetime or at this moment, but maybe for people who are coming behind us it will be easier for them to achieve their goals."

Melanne Verveer, chairman of Vital Voices Global Partnership, said an extraordinary "dividend" of the program is hearing participants talk about empowering other women in their countries, holding governments accountable and transforming their societies.

Amina Suzanah Agbaje, a partner in an Abuja law firm, said, "I want very much to quickly share so much of what I have learned with the other women lawyers in Nigeria.  It is hard for me to be patient.

"My heart is full of joy not only from the experience with a prestigious American law firm, but also becoming friends with other women I have met from around the world.  This is something I did not expect, but I have learned so much from them also," said Agbaje, whose mentor was Antoinette Cook Bush, a partner in the Washington law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

Rocio del Pilar Ardiles Reyes, a finance and administration manager with Brightstar Peru, said, "We all come from very different countries, very different cultures, but it seems that our dreams and goals are very similar."

The participants said their mentors included them on business trips, arranging meetings and introducing them to other women leaders throughout the United States.

Phurbu Tsamchu, owner and general manager of Tibet Snow Leopard Carpets, cited confidence as the most important thing she gained from her mentor, Pat Woertz, president of Archer Daniels Midland Company.

"If you keep learning, nothing is impossible," Phurbu said.  "I am going to bring back some experience, some knowledge from other companies so that I will improve our company."

Orsolya Szcus, regional director for Hungary and Austria of Epicor Software Corporation, said that getting to see a great American corporation through her mentor, Kathy Cassidy, vice president and treasurer of General Electric Company, was "a unique opportunity." She was impressed with the way the company invests in its personnel and believes “in keeping people in the company for a long time."