The Girls Development Initiative

By Christa Carone, Chief Marketing Officer, Xerox

I remember my first mentor. Karen Rohr was my first boss at my first job out of college. We worked for the Visiting Nurse Service in Rochester, N.Y., and Karen was an amazing person who guided me more than I realized at the time. The word “mentor” was never uttered between us, but she truly was and she truly did.

I’ve had many mentors since, and I have mentors today. Time to pay it forward.

For several years, Xerox has participated in the Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and FORTUNE magazine. It gives professional women from developing countries a first-hand look at how U.S. businesses operate.  After serving as a mentor in the program, CEO Ursula Burns asked me if I wanted to take an active role with these remarkable women, many of whom have an interest in marketing. It was an easy yes — but I thought our mentees would be better served with a two-for-the-price-of-one approach, so I recruited Shelley Diamond, a managing partner at Young and Rubicam, to help broaden the experience we’d give our mentees.   (Y&R happens to be Xerox’s advertising agency of record. No coincidence there!)

Now it’s time to meet Precious Simba.  A rising manager for a major grocery retailer in Zimbabwe, Precious was hand-selected by the U.S. Embassy to participate in the mentoring program, and she came to the United States (her first visit to America) to spend the month of May with us in 2011.

Shelley and I packed her schedule with meetings of just about every senior manager at Xerox and Y&R. We introduced her to contacts in her industry, gave her behind-the-scenes tours of amazing U.S. retailers (thank you, Wegmans) and exposed her to the nuances of running local, national and global businesses.

She also saw the strong influence women have in our country — in business, in government, in education and, of course, in raising families. She saw opportunity: equal opportunity.  After a few weeks, Precious returned to her job in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and Shelley and I stayed in touch through regular conference calls.  Like a proud sister, I was thrilled when Precious told us that a major global retailer offered her a fabulous management position to help expand their operations in Africa.

But I was surprised when she turned them down. And surprised yet again when she left her original job. Then she announced that she had founded The Girls Development Initiative, a non-government organization that helps young girls unlock their potential for the good of their communities and their country. The program is built around a curriculum that showcases how education, hard work and opportunity can lead to productive futures for young women throughout Zimbabwe.

And now Precious is back in the U.S. to pick up the Goldman Sachs-Fortune Global Women Leaders Award. It is bestowed upon women who participate in the Fortune/U.S. State Department Mentoring Partnership, and have applied what they learned from their experience to improve their society back at home. Precious is one of three winners (among dozens who applied) and she receives a financial contribution that will help advance her program even further. The award will be presented at the FORTUNE Most Powerful Women summit today, where our own Ursula Burns will be a featured speaker.

Go to Facebook, search for and “Like” The Girls Development Initiative. And take a look at this video that Precious produced. It celebrates her students and their ambitious spirits.

I believe Precious has paid it forward – and then some. As a mentor, I am proud. As a mentee, I am inspired.

Curious marketer & communicator on the hunt for cut through creative… Road warrior and marathon runner, follow me on Twitter @ChristaCarone