February to May has been an exciting beginning for Global Brigades’ mentoring program, La Red de Mentoras. Through this program, Global Brigades helps connect rural Panamanian business women/entrepreneurs with business women in the City to engage in a mentoring relationship. The program also provides workshops and other activities to support rural Panamanian women in gaining business skills, receiving emotional support from their mentors, and assistance in developing business proposals and receiving business consulting.
Mentors have been calling their Mentees once a week to check in and see how they are doing, encouraging them, assigning them activities, and packing their bags and heading to the interior region of Panama to visit the rural areas where these Mentees live and work. For many Mentors, this wasn’t their first time to travel to the interior of the country, but it was the farthest. One Mentor had to meet her Mentee in the city of Veraguas in Santiago and be guided by her so that she wouldn’t get lost in trying to find the Mentee’s site in the Comarca Ngoble-Bugle. Other Mentees have been doing the same, even some arriving in cars and then having to walk for a few hours to the small towns where their Mentees lives.
Mentees have been receiving their Mentors in their communities and becoming like tour guides of their lives – introducing them to their families, their homes, and their businesses. These trips strengthen the dynamic within the group. One Mentor visited her Mentee and saw a way to improve her Mentee’s hotel business, but knew that another Mentor’s expert experience was more aligned in the tourism area, and called her to see if they could connect to also talk about how to improve the Mentee’s hotel business.
The program recently collaborated with AMPYME (Autoridad de la Micro, Prqueña y Mediana Empresa) and the Asociación Panameña de Crédito (APC). AMPYME will now be spearheading the Business Training section of the program and the Facilitator, Michelle Saucedo, will be focusing on leadership and goal setting amongst the Mentoring pairs. The APC will be surveying the Mentees to provide business growth metrics for the program. Psychologist and coach, Luz Maria de Cedeño will continue working with the Mentees in personal development section of the program where the women work on emotional intelligence and self-esteem.
On the media side, both social media (Facebook, Twitter) from the U.S. Embassy and Global Brigades have been sharing photos, stories, and updates about the program and it’s successes. La Red de Mentoras now also has its own Facebook page for those who want to follow its updates or simply “like¨ what the program is doing. For the 100th International Women’s Day, the U.S. Ambassador Phyllis M. Powers wrote an article about local Panamanian initiatives “working towards the improvement of life and conditions of women in Panama.”
The second meeting for Mentors and Mentees was held on May 7th in conjunction with the new AMPYME workshops and addition of extra activities between the Mentors and Mentees. Right before the second meeting, on April 27th, all the Mentors including leaders from other women mentoring programs in Panama, attended a pre-reunion dinner at Napoli in Panama City to discuss program successes, questions, and even difficulties the Mentors might be having. This open conversation inspired and provoked best practices amongst Mentors and served as an open forum for program improvement. Overall, these past first two months of the program have been a learning experience for all – the Mentor/Mentees getting to know each other and the program taking a rhythm, leaves everyone excited to see what happens next.