A Step in the Right Direction

03.09.144:08 PM ET

45 Cities Walk to Empower Women

Vital Voices' Global Mentoring Walks united women in 30 countries including actress Sally Field to celebrate women's leadership and support young professionals.

Women in 30 countries linked together via social media to celebrate International Women’s Day on Saturday with “Global Mentoring Walks” to highlight the importance of women’s leadership and women encouraging women. The mood in Washington, home of the sponsoring organization, Vital Voices, was “celebratory, inspiring and happy,” reported Uma Iyer, director of global engagement.

About 250 women gathered for the walk in the nation’s capital, one of 45 cities where the event took place. Hafsat Abiola, the Nigerian human rights activist, and Sally Field, the actress, made remarks. Field is on the board of Vital Voices, an organization she says “stands alone for finding and supporting women leaders around the world.” She called the global mentoring walks “another great step in the right direction for women everywhere.”

Bank of America is this year’s global sponsoring organization, and senior vice president Urvi S. Bham walked with two mentees. “We had a great conversation on topics related to mistakes that I’ve learned from in my career,” she said, ticking off work life balance, networking, reaching out to senior executives, and working in male dominated professions or teams. “Personally, I’ve always found mentoring to be a very powerful way to learn,” she said, crediting mentors she connected with early in her career with helping her to become a more compassionate leader and to “manage my professional and personal life.”

This was the 8th year for the mentoring walks, a concept drawn from media icon, Geraldine Laybourne, founder and former CEO of Oxygen Media, who first launched mentoring walks to inspire and empower young women professionals in New York City and across the U.S. Vital Voices took the idea global, and e-mails to organizers in cities around the world produced these responses.

From Harare, Zimbabwe, Nyaradzo Mashayamombe, who learned about Vital Voices through Facebook, wrote that the theme of their walk was “Promoting Peer Mentorship.” “The objective was to encourage young women university students in their second or so years at university to be the mentors of the girls in freshman (classes) who recently started at these universities.” After walking for about 30 minutes, they gathered in a “Secret Garden” where they talked about tuition fees, sexual reproductive health and the vulnerabilities these young women face. “It was a therapeutic moment as young women shared their deep challenges, stuff that we all would not believe and for more than twice during the mentorship talks all of us broke down, but the girls owned their stories…and they are using their stories to empower others….The girls who attended formed a committee for young women who will coordinate the mentorship program at two universities that were represented and we think that this is going to enable mentorship to continue beyond today.”

From Accra, Ghana, Brigitte Dzogbenuku wrote that their walk brought together over 100 people. “It involved a 3-mile walk partly along the city’s major Independence Avenue. Participants then gathered in at the Barclays Clubhouse to interact, an opportunity for mentees to chat with women in leadership in areas of career interest.

From Kampala-Uganda, Rehmah Kasule wrote that the mentoring walk was “fun, exciting, inspiring and equipping.” In keeping with the philosophy of “Mentoring is like a candle, one can light many without losing its glow,” she says the young women and the older more experienced women “engaged in positive open discussions as they walked the 3-miles journey. From the testimonies shared, girls and women of Uganda ended the day truly knowing that the African Proverb of ‘if you walk alone, you go very fast, and when you take others with you, you go very far’ will indeed inspire change in their lives and communities.” Rehman Kasule points out that she was the first Ugandan to join the Fortune/US Global Women's Mentoring Program in 2009 and in 2012 she joined the Vital Voices Lead Fellowship.  

From Argentina, Mariana Massacesi reported that Saturday’s mentoring walk “showed that by investing in a few young women’s leadership you can impact many. Argentina celebrated the International Women’s Day with powerful women from Cordoba and Salta joining the Global Mentoring Walk.”

From Bangkok, Dya Niknamian wrote that the event was “a great success with a great turnout, including Roberta Clarke, Regional Director of UN Women South East Asia, who gave an inspiring presentation on Angela Davis, a feminist activist who was an inspiration to her.

“We gathered in the beautiful Bangkok Art and Culture Center, a setting which allowed us to combine inspiration with art. During the event we received several enthusiastic comments from mentees and mentors including "thank you so much Wedu for organizing this event" and "I was inspired by my mentee.” (Wedu is an organization that “catalyzes the next generation of female leaders in developing countries.) Mario Ferro, co-founder of Wedu said "the Mentoring Walks are great opportunities to match young women with experienced mentors. Even within one hour we see relationships blossoming, many mentors and mentees exchanging details to stay in touch and some finding jobs as well. Everybody leaves the room inspired, we should do more."