"I had to remember it’s not about me, it is about them," says Justine Metz. That was top of mind for the Bank of America Merrill Lynch marketing exec who recently set out to mentor a women’s rights activist she’d never met in Haiti—a country she’d never been to.
Yet from her years of mentoring and being a mentee, Metz knows that the relationship can be one of profound change for both people involved. That’s why she chose to take part in Bank of America’s Global Ambassadors program in partnership with Vital Voices. The program is slated to bring high level executives and government leaders to women in Haiti, South Africa, India, and Argentina to help build a global network for positive economic and social change, according to Candace Browning, head of BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research, who will also be a mentor in the program.
"Our research reveals that in many developing countries, women are well positioned to enter the workforce as leaders and help drive economic growth. In other regions women would benefit from broader access to opportunities to develop as leaders in order to strengthen the communities where they live," says Browning.
Indeed, since its founding by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1997, Vital Voices’ pro bono experts and leaders have trained and mentored more than 12,000 emerging women leaders from over 144 countries. They in turn have mentored over 500,000 women and girls.
Although she was armed with that knowledge, Metz tells Fast Company she was a little in awe of her fellow Global Ambassadors, illustrious leaders like Florence Chenoweth, Minister of Agriculture, Liberia; Constance Morella, former ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; Mu Sochua, member of Parliament in Cambodia, and actress and activist Maria Bello. "It was intimidating," Metz says, and she admits she had her doubts on the trip to Port-au-Prince about what she could offer the women leaders of Haiti and their efforts to help the country rebuild.
"When I met with my mentee Danielle Saint-Lôt that evening and started the conversation, I found out she was a single mom who lost her house in the earthquake. I asked why she picked me because she is so impressive," recalls Metz.
Turns out Saint-Lôt had done her homework. She told Metz that despite having a large network from her time as the country’s minister of commerce and attending high school with current Haitian president Michel Joseph Martelly, Saint-Lôt "knew nothing" about marketing and leveraging social media to tell stories. That’s when Metz got really excited. "I knew I could do that," she said. "I went there thinking I was the weakest link but I can certainly take a bunch of complicated ideas and articulate them in five bullets or less."
Metz says that though the task of presenting the story of Saint-Lôt’s platform Femmes en Démocratie to President Martelly in a few short days seemed monumental, it would be the first of many milestones put in place to act as goals. Beyond generating excitement, Metz says, "figuring out key milestones is ultimately how we can determine metrics for success."
Since the time spent together in Haiti, Saint-Lôt has conducted several high-level meetings with Haitian government officials, including incoming Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe as well as U.S. politicians and NGOs on a recent trip to Washington DC.
Metz acknowledges that further networking is going to take money, but insists the real motivation is to create empowered female leaders who can, in turn, influence their leaders. "Even if you never raise another dollar, you are still changing lives and advancing the needs of the community via a very motivated group of women," she observes.
The Haitian government already made a commitment to Femmes en Démocratie and the president has since named seven women to parliament. Metz says she can’t take credit for Saint-Lôt’s passion and commitment as an agent of change but she does continue to have an enduring role.
"I am the advisor. When I observe that we are moving sideways instead of forward, I get involved." Metz says it’s never taken more than one or two conference calls to make progress. She says she’s learned to stay close and be an observer, but it’s up to the mentee to be inclusive. "My job is not to disrupt but augment," she adds.
Ditching Gender Roles
Some women mentors take a "mothering" approach to the relationship, even when their female mentees are reluctant to ask for what they need. Metz says the way to foster a productive give-and-take is to ditch the gender roles altogether. "This is a connection between two people," says Metz and making a good one often comes from having a common drive. She and Saint-Lôt had very little in common on the surface but they do share a vision. "You should also find something that is different because if it is all the same between you, you won't learn anything new," she says.
On the last day she and a group of newly arrived Bank of America executives took the mentees through a marketing exercise—and the results were astounding. Thanks to the collective energy and passionate Haitian culture, Metz says, "The decibel volume was unbelievable," as the women debated tag lines. Though it was only an exercise, Metz says it taught the mentors the value of creating a space for dialogue and change.
"No matter where you are born, if you are uneducated or not, black or white, in the end, if there is an important cause and you put people in a room, they may not always agree but they are in it together." That, she says, is a lesson for business as well as life. "These are good people trying to do good things and make a difference. When it all calmed down, we were all focused. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to be a part of that."
[Image: Flickr user Fiddle Oak]