Charlotte – Day 2: Reflections on Partnership
Jennifer Smith, Senior Director, Strategic Partnerships
Jennifer Smith, left, with Global Ambassadors Program Charlotte participants and alumnae
One of my first meetings when I joined Vital Voices in 2011 was with Bank of America. It was an inspiring conversation about a simple, but innovative idea – how do we mobilize the talent, skills and expertise of top women leaders from around the world to support, mentor and invest in the next generation of women leaders? An idea about leveraging human capital created the Global Ambassadors Program. Six years later here I sit in Charlotte participating in our 13th program – a gathering of extraordinary women leaders – mentors and mentees who represent all corners of the globe – from right here in North Carolina to as far away as Ethiopia and beyond.
Three days in I keep coming back to what Zoë said on day one – be present, be vulnerable, be open to new ideas, and challenge your assumptions. Words of advice meant for our mentors and mentees – but also words of advice that I believe have helped shape our incredible partnership with Bank of America these past six years.
This program has been a true partnership between our two organizations – a labor of love – bringing the best of what both organizations have to offer to the women leaders in whom we’re investing with each trip. Together and with the dynamic leadership of our CEO Alyse Nelson, our Vice President of Global Leadership Programs Zoë Dean-Smith and our fearless thought partners at Bank of America – Vice Chairman Anne Finucane, Women and Arts & Culture Programs Executive Rena DeSisto, and Global Women’s Program Executive Pam Seagle, to name just a few – together through being honest, open, candid and challenging of our respective assumptions – we’ve built a world class leadership and mentoring program.
Just one example – when Bank of America executive Katy Knox joined our trip to Northern Ireland in 2014 to serve as one of our Global Ambassadors – her feedback was heard loud and clear. She challenged us and her colleagues to think bigger. How could we keep the investment going beyond the one week program? How could we better leverage the dynamic resources that exist throughout a company like Bank of America? And with that – the virtual mentoring component of our partnership was born.
Virtual financial mentors
Katy and countless other leaders throughout the Bank have since mobilized their teams to support each cohort of mentees with a virtual mentorship that provides follow-on support on critical challenges related to financial management. But what we’ve seen is that the virtual component does so much more than that – it has become the “phone a friend” life line for our mentees once this incredible week comes to a close. They leave knowing they have a dedicated resource to which they can turn for all of their questions, concerns and challenges as they begin to implement all that they discussed, planned and built with their mentor throughout the week.
Shared values, common goal
To me – this is the power of partnership. Two different organizations coming to the table with different goals, objectives, needs and challenges – leveraging the best that each has to offer in support of a bigger purpose. And together learning along the way about what works, what needs to change, and where we go next. Without being present in the partnership, being open to new ideas and being willing to challenge our respective assumptions – I don’t believe we’d be where we are today. We are so proud of this partnership and the impact we’ve achieved together. I’m looking forward to many more learnings in the days, months and years ahead, as we work continue our shared commitment to advancing women’s leadership and economic opportunity.
Watch the program’s YouTube playlist.
Photography at top: David Hume Kennerly
Photo of Jennifer with participants: Jenna Sumar