Puerto Rico: Advancing Women in Business, Social Enterprise & Community Nonprofits

Zoë Dean-Smith, Vice President, Economic Empowerment & Entrepreneurship

Did you feel the earth shift a little last week?

Two by two, mentors and mentees took to the streets in 62 countries, walking together as part of the 174 Vital Voices Global Mentoring Walk events around the world. International Women’s Day celebrations are always occasions for reflection and inspiration, and this year is no different. I’m taking that energy with me to Puerto Rico for the Global Ambassadors Program, our signature partnership with Bank of America, taking place the week of March 18-22.

I can’t wait to meet the next cohort.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, our mentees are determined to take their companies and organizations forward, toward a stronger economy and a vision for a new Puerto Rico. They represent industries as diverse as sustainable fashion, alternative education, tourism, public relations and more.

The Global Ambassadors (mentors) that have been paired with the mentees for a week of training and mentoring are trailblazing leaders in their fields, from Fortune 500 companies, niche investment funds, political strategy firms and technology start-ups. They come from Puerto Rico, the U.S., Argentina and Poland, volunteering their time and talent in support of strengthening the next generation of women leaders in business, social enterprise and community nonprofits.

Here’s my big secret.

Right now they have no idea what they’re in for as they prepare for their work, placing their homes and personal lives temporarily on hold. Having led GAP for the past six years, I can say with confidence that they are in for one of the most rewarding, transformative experiences they will ever have.

The stop in San Juan will be our 19th trip since kicking off the program in Haiti in 2012.

It was two years after the devastating earthquake and we bore witness to a country still reeling from catastrophic loss of life, livelihood, infrastructure and industry. Despite these circumstances, the Haitian women leaders in our cohort were moving communities forward – and leading the way, advancing legislation that would ensure greater women’s participation in long-term rebuilding efforts.

Women lead differently.

No matter the geographic, economic or political landscape, GAP constantly reminds me what we’ve been learning at Vital Voices for more than 22 years. Women all face the same challenges. They seek solutions to seemingly intractable problems. They share ideas and knowledge. They use power to empower others. It’s a simple idea, at the heart of Vital Voices – women lead differently.

The women of Puerto Rico have already shown true leadership – long before the first bands of Hurricane Maria tested their resolve. Ingenuity and creativity in moving their lives and businesses forward are what led our mentees to GAP. What happens next – after a week packed with world-class training and connections to a supportive network of powerful women leaders – will be nothing less than extraordinary.

Follow updates here and on social media (@VitalVoices and @BofA_News) tracking the hashtag #GlobalAmbassadors.

Meet the participants



Tara Rush
Chief Communications Officer
Lucienne Gigante
Founder, LuGi, LLC 
Silvina Moschini
CEO, SheWorks!
Mariangie Rosas
CEO, UrbanVittles LLC; Founder, co.co.haus
Carmen Cedré
Founder, Clutch Consulting
Auralís Herrero-Lugo
Founder, Retazo
Elise Labott
Global Affairs Journalist
Yari Rivas
Vice-President and Co-Founder, Alterna Communications
Aleksandra Gren
Country Head and Board member, Fiserv Poland, Fiserv International Group
Tania Rosario-Méndez
Executive Director, Taller Salud
Robin Leeds
CEO, Winning Strategies LLC; Strategic Partner, Burson Cohn & Wolfe
Isabel Rullán
Executive Director, ConPRmetidos
Sarah F. Thorn
Senior Director, Global Government Affairs, Walmart
Isabel C. Fernández
Wendy K. White Eagle
President and Chair of the Board, Native Capital Investment, Inc.
Ana Yris Guzmán
Co-Founder and Executive President, Nuestra Escuela, Inc. 
Christine K. Channels
Chief Operating Officer, Consumer & Small Business, Bank of America
María Gabriela Velasco Corrado
Co-Founder, PRsiliency
Kirstin Hill
Managing Director and Strategic Performance Executive, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, Bank of America
Paulina Salach
Co-Founder and Managing Director, Spoon X