Celebrating Five Years of Advancing Women’s Leadership and Economic Empowerment: Los Angeles, California

Zoë Dean-Smith, Vice President, Global Leadership Programs

Zoë Dean-Smith

As I write this blog, 11 powerhouse women leaders from throughout Latin America and California are making arrangements to leave their businesses, organizations and family obligations for one week as they prepare for the Global Ambassadors Program (GAP) in Los Angeles, November 6-10. It is the third and final stop on our U.S. tour this year, in celebration of five years of program success since we began the partnership with Bank of America in 2012.

Eleven Global Ambassadors, senior-level executives from Mexico, the U.S. and as far away as Dubai will be in L.A. to meet their mentees, eager to begin a transformational week of mentorship and strategic workshops that will strengthen their leadership skills, organizational management and financial acumen.

Where the Charlotte and Chicago programs earlier this year drew participants from all corners of the globe, Los Angeles presents an opportunity to focus on women entrepreneurs from Latin America and the Caribbean, a region where data show promising trends for women driving economic and social progress. As with previous programs this year, we’re integrating locally-based entrepreneurs and nonprofit organization leaders into the mentee cohort for a truly enriching cross-cultural experience.

“Mentorship is a gift.” Read Amina’s blog from GAP Chicago

I can’t wait for the week to begin. Some of the mentees’ nonprofits tackle issues as varied as cervical cancer screening programs in Suriname and support services for families impacted by deportation and incarceration in California. Another mentee joining us runs a trucking and construction vehicle company in Mexico, and yet another started a digital marketing agency in Guatemala and is ready to scale up.

Our Global Ambassadors for L.A. are established leaders in their respective fields, as well. We have banking and community development executives, serial entrepreneurs, and communications and marketing experts, among others. Each one will volunteer her time to pay forward expertise, lessons learned and networks to a new generation of women leaders at a tipping point in their careers.

Don’t miss the global forum November 9, Women Driving Social and Economic Progress

Featuring Anne Finucane, vice chairman, Bank of America, in conversation with Maria Shriver, journalist, author and activist; and Melanne Verveer, co-founder, Seneca Women, and executive director, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, with Tory Burch, CEO and chief creative officer, Tory Burch LLC and president of the Tory Burch Foundation. Follow #WomenLead, watch the live stream and join the dialogue on women’s entrepreneurship and economic empowerment.

The unique GAP mentorship model is best-in-class. Our trainers are globally recognized experts committed to advancing women’s leadership. Our support team here at Vital Voices and with our partners at Bank of America is second to none. But even after 15 GAP trips, the week before kick-off always fills me with a sense of excitement and giddy anticipation.

I think about what inspires me most about the program: the looks of puzzlement, trepidation and awe on the faces of the mentees as they share with us their “Why me? Why did you pick me?”

Zoë Dean-Smith (R) with GAP Chicago participants

thoughts; the individual breakthroughs to seeing past vexing business challenges; the thrill of the moment when the mentees realize why they were matched with their particular Global Ambassadors; the eureka moments when a complete organizational overhaul is called for, or perhaps when a mentee or a Global Ambassador sees the next step in her own career journey beyond her succession plan.

Perhaps most inspiring to me are the lasting friendships created among women from diverse experiences and geographies, bonded by a shared goal to give back. They will take what they learn through GAP, improve their businesses and organizations, and in turn, expand opportunity for all in their communities and the world beyond.

Meet our GAP Los Angeles participants below, and be sure to follow #GlobalAmbassadors all next week for updates and check out the blogs.



Maria de Lourdes “Lulu” Sobrino
 Founder and CEO, Lulu’s Foods, Inc.

Dahlia Wilde
CEO, Pretty Smart Woman Company 

Vera Futorjanski
Head of Global Communications, Dubai Future Foundation

Amy Friedman
Co-Founder and Executive Director, POPS the Club

Gabriela Leon
CEO and Co-Founder, Gresmex

Ariela Suster
Founder and Creative Director, Sequence Collection
El Salvador/USA

Geraldine Laybourne
Chairman and Co-Founder, Katapult Studios

Cecilia de la Paz
Founder and General Director, E.ducate Uruguay

April Francois
Chief Financial Officer, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and Retirement & Personal Wealth Solutions, Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Maria Kaltschmitt
Managing Partner, Zen Interactive Media

Shelly Diamond
Chief Client Officer, Young & Rubicam

Agustina Fainguersch
U.S. Managing Director and Partner, Wolox

Marilyn Johnson
 Founder, MarilynJSpeaks.com

Gizella Greene
General Manager and Co-Founder, SuperFoods

Claudia Herreramoro
Director – Communications Latin America, Procter & Gamble

Veronica Soto
Founding Partner, GID Industries SA DE CV

Abigail Edgecliffe-Johnson
Founder & CEO, RaceYa

Teyra Ehlers
Founder and President, Administra PTY

Kerri Schroeder
Commercial Credit Executive, Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Barbara Cendejas
CEO and Founder, Macademy

Carrie McKellogg
 Chief Program Officer, The Roberts Enterprise Development Fund (REDF)

Nensy Bandhoe
Executive Director, Lobi Foundation