Mentoring Victoria and Optimism for Africa’s Future

Titi Cole

Titi Cole, former Bank of America Retail Products and Underwriting executive, reflects on working with her mentee, Dr. Victoria Kisyombe, of Tanzania, during the 2015 Global Ambassadors Program trip to South Africa.

I left Africa 20 years ago to attend graduate school in the U.S. and have not spent time back on the continent for work, so the last week has been incredibly fulfilling professionally and personally. The opportunity to represent Bank of America as a Global Ambassador working directly with women from Sub-Saharan Africa who are leading organizations that are driving women’s empowerment is one I will always treasure.

Thanks to the bank’s partnership with Vital Voices and (RED), I also was able to see firsthand how funds donated by Bank of America and other corporations are saving lives and reducing the transmission of mother-to-child HIV/ AIDS, moving toward the goal of an AIDS free generation!

The women mentees are from seven different countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and lead organizations as diverse as sunflower seed processing to a consulting advisory for foreign investors to Africa. What these women all share is their passion for leading, a commitment to their vision and a strong sense of purpose about making lives better in their communities.

My mentee, Victoria Kisyombe, leads an organization called SELFINA, which provides micro leasing financing for women in Tanzania. Her amazing business story started with a cow left to her by her late husband and she figured out how to turn that cow into an asset to start her business. On a continent where 50 percent of the population is women, owning less than two percent of the land, access to financing is a challenge. Land is the common collateral for bank financing. Victoria solved this challenge by offering micro leases for very little down payment, giving an opportunity for women to jump-start their businesses and begin to generate income for their families quickly.

Victoria has helped start businesses by leasing equipment as varied as hair dryers, bakery ovens and solar panels. She has provided financing to over 25,000 women and impacted the lives of over 200,000 people. Her work is transforming lives in Tanzania, and during the Global Ambassadors Program in Johannesburg we worked together on developing an expansion plan into other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

I’ve learned so much from Victoria and her fellow mentees — about resiliency, faith and their strong sense of purpose. A purpose to ensure that Africa can seize the opportunities to grow by tapping into the human capital of women who make up half of the population but face significant challenges in areas like education, access to resources and human rights.

I leave South Africa with a renewed commitment to mentoring women and a strong sense of optimism about Africa’s future.