La Red de Mentoras: A Mentoring Program for Business Women in Panamá
La Red de Mentoras is a new program launched by Global Brigades Panama to connect rural Panamanian businesswomen/entrepreneurs with their counterparts in the city to receive education, empowerment, and mentoring on how to plan and grow their businesses. The idea for La Red de Mentoras began in a coffee shop in a meeting last October when Global Brigades Panama staff members Chris Burillo and Jackie Hyland met with the Economic Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Panama. The Officer wanted to meet because the department of economics was looking to support rural economic development projects, something Global Business Brigades was already doing. From that meeting, the Officer approached Global Brigades with a grant opportunity to work on a pilot mentoring project for businesswomen in the interior to be connected with businesswomen in Panama City (with funding coming from Hillary Clinton’s global initiatives for women and at-risk youth). At the time, Jackie Hyland had been working closely with Business Brigades and had a great interest in helping to create this program for women. Jackie submitted a proposal that was approved as a Global Brigades-U.S. Embassy Project and she is now currently dedicating herself full-time to running this program.
La Red de Mentoras has two main goals: education and empowerment. For nine months, 22 women will be participating in one-on-one mentoring relationships. The main goal is for the women in the interior to have a side-by-side companion to participate with them in business planning and growth workshops so that they will not only receive the tools they need to administer, run, and grow a business, but will also have personal support along the way. Women face certain specific obstacles in the business world, including how to balance family/work life, societal expectations, pregnancy and work, and access to credit. This program will help address these type of personal and professional issues that businesswomen face.
The program will be implemented in 4 phases, with the first phase having launched February 25-27, 2011, in which the final interview, selection, and first meeting for the program were held. Out of fifty applications received in January, twenty-seven applicants were invited to the final interview. Twenty-five women actually arrived from Bocas del Toro, Comarca Ngöbe-Buglé, Comarca Emberá, Colón, Panama (province), Veraguas, Herrera, Los Santos and Coclé. They represented seven provinces and two Comarcas. It was an incredibly difficult decision for all eight women on the selection committee (three from Peace Corps, two from Global Brigades, a psychologist, and two from the Embassy), but with the insight from each group on the vision of the project and knowledge of the interior they successfully selected the final group of eleven women. The final group represents four provinces and two Comaracas.
During the first phase, the mentors and mentees participated in a Business Management workshop along with a leadership workshop prepared by a professional coach-psychologist. Michelle Saucedo, the facilitator of the business part of the day commented, “In the case of the Mentors, they are definitely professional women with great energy to lead and guide the Mentees. The Mentees were extremely participative, showing positive energy that is needed for any kind of entrepreneurship.”
Moving forward, the participants will take part in weekly calls to form the beginning of a mentoring relationship. After this important initial stage, each of the successive phases will build on each other by developing more goals and working with AMPYME (Autoridad de la Micro, Pequeña y Mediana Empresa), a governmental organization that trains and gives seed capital, and working on metrics and evaluation to constantly improve the program. Over the course of the next several months, 4 more meetings are planned and will all incorporate a component of a business workshop with their Mentor, leadership development, and a business plan development section with AMPYME.
We hope that in the future this program can grow from 22 Mentors-Mentees to double or triple the size, and that businesswomen around Panama will begin to form more and more networks creating opportunities for all Panamanians. Check out our facebook page for more updates, videos, and photos about this exciting new program!