Global Ambassadors Program in South Africa: Right Time, Right Place

The Global Ambassadors Program is off to a great start in Johannesburg, South Africa, and mentors and mentees have settled into a rhythm of one-to-one goal-setting sessions in between intensive trainings in strategic planning and communications with global experts.

As they work through their business and operational challenges, mentees are already thinking of creative, new ideas to bring back to their organizations; at the same time, they are building needed communications and leadership skills for positioning their enterprises for growth.

Lily Neumeyer and Laura Akunga

“I want to reflect on my journey and let my guard down,” said mentee Laura Akunga of Kenya, answering the question ‘Why are you here?’ on the first day of introductions. She is founder and CEO of Benchmark Solutions, a financial consulting company and mentored by Lily Neumeyer of A&E Networks. “My main agenda is to transform African economies one business at a time.”

Laura’s dream is just one reason for our longstanding commitment with Bank of America to provide mentoring and leadership opportunities for women leaders in business and social enterprise. Stories like hers provide the foundation for the Global Ambassadors Program, created in 2012 in recognition of women’s vital contribution to economic growth.

While the power of investing in women’s economic development is globally accepted, resources have come up short. Alyse Nelson, president and CEO of Vital Voices, and Molly Elgin-Cossart, senior fellow at Center for American Progress, cite in the Huffington Post a recent OECD study showing that member state investments have stagnated — despite the rise in awareness of its value and global pledges. Resources dedicated to women, peace, security and public leadership also have stalled. They drive home the argument: 

“Our world cannot afford to sideline women any longer. Without women, strong and sustainable growth cannot be achieved. Higher gender equality is associated with higher GDP, and women’s increased economic participation drives household income growth. International studies consistently show us that where women’s rights are respected, economies are stronger, civil societies thrive, and political institutions are more open and free.”

Mary Mbukpa and Yvonne Ike

That is why partnerships like the Global Ambassadors Program are critically important. This exchange in Johannesburg includes (RED), and many participants are involved in economic empowerment of women in the HIV/AIDS care sector. As the Millenium Development Goals come due this year, moving the global development agenda past 2015 will require a multi-sector approach. 

“Africa’s time is now,” said Yvonne Ike, managing director and head of Sub-Saharan Africa (Ex-RSA) at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “Women are multipliers. They take lifelong problems and bring a fresh look at solutions.” Yvonne’s mentee, Mary Mbukpa works in public health in Nigeria, with a special emphasis on the HIV/AIDS. “Mary is thinking of new ways of applying solutions to these problems.”

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Photography: David Hume Kennerly