South Africa 2015: Empowering Women Leaders Fighting HIV/AIDS

Zoë Dean-Smith, Senior Director, Global Programs

It’s a great honor for me to bring the Global Ambassadors Program, a Vital Voices and Bank of America partnership, closer to home in South Africa on International Women’s Day, March 8, for our tenth week-long mentoring exchange. 

I was born and raised in the neighbouring Kingdom of Swaziland, and much of my career has focused on empowering local women entrepreneurs. This program trip builds on our first visit to Cape Town, South Africa, in 2012. We are pairing 10 new mentors (“Global Ambassadors”) with 10 mentees for one-on-one mentoring sessions, group mentoring and targeted trainings to build organizational management acumen, and communications and marketing skills.

This time, in Johannesburg, we’ll be joined by (RED), an organization founded in 2006 to raise money and awareness for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Many of the Global Ambassadors are from partner (RED) companies, and the mentees — from Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania and Uganda — are actively working in businesses, social enterprises or clinics which focus on fighting HIV/AIDS, or provide economic opportunities to those living with HIV/AIDS. 

The program’s focus on empowering women leaders in the fight against HIV/AIDS comes as the world reaches a tipping point in the fight, with 2013 marking the first time that more people newly accessed treatment than were newly infected with HIV. We’ll also be looking at the connection between HIV/AIDS and regional GDP. It’s been calculated that in South Africa alone HIV/AIDS will depress GDP by as much as 17 percent over the next decade.

Our week in Johannesburg features a Mentoring Walk on March 8, organized by Vital Voices Global Leadership Network member Hema Vallabh. We’ll visit the Right to Care clinic on March 11; and host a forum with regional and global experts and thought leaders on March 12 around women’s economic empowerment, “Africa Rising. Women Leading.” The open dialogue will explore the role of women in advancing economic and social progress in Africa, particularly in the context of global health and the digital revolution.

I can’t wait to get started and to watch our new mentees flourish as they learn from both the professional and personal leadership paths of their mentors. Since 2012, the Global Ambassadors Program has provided mentorship opportunities for 64 women leaders representing 33 countries. We’ve tracked impressive business and organizational growth as a result; we’ve witnessed lifelong friendships and professional collaborations take off; and most importantly, we’ve seen the power of the multiplier effect in action — the women business owners and social entrepreneurs in whom we invest time, training and resources, pay forward that investment to the next generation.

We’ll be blogging from South Africa and posting photo galleries each day — follow along and be sure to tweet questions to @VitalVoices, @BofA_News and @RED using the hashtag #GlobalAmbassadors. You’ll hear from mentors and mentees directly about what they hope to learn as part of the Global Ambassadors Program. Stay with us!

Meet the Mentees and Global Ambassadors 

See the Gallery. 

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, hashtag #GlobalAmbassadors.

Watch the program’s YouTube playlist.

Connect with Bank of America and (RED).