Charlotte – Be Present. Be Open.

Karen Bennetts

Last month I had the honor of being a mentee in Vital Voices’ and Bank of America’s Global Ambassadors Program in Charlotte. This was an experience unlike any other I’ve had in my career. My sincere gratitude goes to both Vital Voices and Bank of America for bringing this program to the U.S., and accepting me as a mentee.

Be Present.

At the beginning of the week, program director Zoë Dean-Smith offered a seemingly simple suggestion: Be present. I didn’t realize what a challenge it would be, and that it’d be the first of many.

I expected the trainers to be very good, (we’d had webinars with them prior to the program), but until the sessions, we didn’t realize the level of subject experts Vital Voices and Bank of America had brought to our table. The team of trainers couldn’t have been better prepared, or better qualified to work with our group, and knew when and how for us to use the expertise surrounding us from the other mentees, mentors and consultants. There was almost more great learning than we could handle at one time; it was challenging to remember to stay focused, and present, to take advantage of all the counsel they offered.

Over the course of the week I was especially surprised by two things:

Generosity – of spirit, time and commitment.

The trainers and Vital Voices team were fully devoted to helping each of us learn, understand, and use their expertise to move us to the next level, personally and professionally. They went beyond being professional, and were warm, giving and 100 percent engaged before, during and after our week together. 

Bank of America is much more than a sponsor, or even a partner, of this program.

Their support as mentors, counselors, hosts and experts during this week was fabulous. We were awed also by learning more about their initiatives to support and empower women across the globe. 

Be Open.

The other suggestion given by Zoë was to be open. I’d convinced myself I was ready for any counsel offered, and wouldn’t push back when it was given. Did I get pushed outside my comfort zone? An emphatic “Yes!” But it was the push I needed, delivered with the best of intentions, and I learned a tremendous amount. Of course the suggestions I most resisted were those I most needed to hear; I’ve adopted every one in the week since. 

My mentor, Oulimata Sarr, with UN Women in Senegal, delivered the counsel and real-world direction (push) I needed, and is one of the most delightful women I’ve ever met. Special shoutouts to Zoë Dean-Smith, Allison Shapira, Kathleen Holland, Judson Russell, Jennefer Witter, and David Hume Kennerly, for their generosity and wisdom, and willingness to share. 

Learn more about Karen and her business, Little Red Bird.

Photography: David Hume Kennerly