The transformative power of leadership development: from training future women leaders to empowering female clients

March 21, 2016

Margarita Gonzales Restrepo’s story is similar to those of the hundreds of high potential women executives that have attended our signature Women in Leadership program in the past 10 years. Designed to build the leadership skills needed to help women like Margarita move to the next level, Women in Leadership emphasizes interactive exercises anchored to various leadership models and managerial tools like negotiation, giving feedback and managing work/life balance. Participants are then asked to create an action plan to help them reach their future personal and professional goals, giving them something tangible to apply their learnings to and work towards when they return to their respective organizations.

As the head of the Centro de Liderazgo para la Mujer (Center for Women’s Leadership) at Fundación WWB in Colombia, Margarita believed that most of the tools and methodologies of our signature program could benefit women entrepreneurs in Colombia if they were adapted. Her goal, to add a leadership component to a program she was developing for clients, was a perfect example of the type of action plan we wanted participants to create: a plan clearly linked to their personal and professional developmental goals and very much aligned to the mission and vision of her organization, Fundación WWB.

Getting to work

Mujeres en el Liderazgo
Watch video of the Mujeres en el Liderazgo program in action!

Upon her return from the program, Margarita quickly put her action plan into motion. First, she needed to get her CEO’s buy-in. She successfully put her influence and communication skills to the test by framing her idea in a way that resonated with her audience. Once she secured her CEO’s support, she contacted Women’s World Banking to assist in the customization of what is now known as Mujeres en el Liderazgo. As the program lead for the Women in Leadership program, I became Margarita’s Women’s World Banking counterpart in this new venture.

The initial challenge for Women’s World Banking was adapting the curriculum for this new audience. The original program targets high-potential women in financial institutions focused on women’s financial inclusion for women. It focuses on developing their personal leadership style and skills to best contribute to their organization. How could we adapt the program to create a curriculum that reflects the difficulties and opportunities of low-income women entrepreneurs in Colombia?

Second, gauging the success of the customization process and impact of each module is crucial to success. How could we monitor and evaluate the delivery of each module from hundreds of miles away in New York? Last but not least—Women’s World Banking’s model is to pilot and replicate our innovative programs around the world. How could we leverage the learning from the pilot to create a leadership program for women entrepreneurs that can be rolled out across our global network?

We addressed those challenges by closely collaborating with Fundación WWB in the review and customization of each module, for example: changing existing language to reflect a more colloquial vocabulary and providing examples that are more relatable to the clients. We leveraged technology to monitor and evaluate the program’s progress virtually: all sessions were videotaped and reviewed by Women’s World Banking for quality control.

Mujeres en el Liderazgo Program ParticipantsThe collaboration between Fundación WWB and Women’s World Banking resulted in a 14-week program, piloted less than a year after Margarita’s participation in our Women in Leadership program. The pilot consisted of 25 low-income women entrepreneurs between the ages of 25 to 68. The program was broken down into two main area of focus. The first half of the program covered topics that addressed gender bias, domestic and sexual abuse and explored the cultural and social roles and responsibilities of women. The second half of the program consisted of a highly customized version of our Women in Leadership program curriculum to meet the specific needs of women clients.  According to Daniela Konietzko, President of Fundación WWB, “this workshop is intended to offer women the possibility to get to know themselves better and strengthen their self-awareness as well as their identity.”

One drop in the ocean of ideas…

The transformation I witnessed during the pilot phase was incredible. Even after years of delivering this program, I never would have thought that the 25 women who quietly walked into the classroom on the first day of the program would benefit from the curriculum in the way they have. The video from that day shows the women sitting nervously, timidly holding tightly to their purses and speaking only when absolutely necessary. By the time I flew to Colombia half-way through the program to deliver a module, the same 25 women had transformed into charismatic, assertive, empowered individuals ready to question and to share their personal stories, dreams, and aspirations—some that had never been shared before. They openly discussed the satisfaction and struggle of growing their businesses; finding work-life balance; dealing with cultural and social gender biases and carving out a future for themselves and their families. In just seven weeks, they had strengthened their personal relationships with family members, friends, employees, and one another.

 …creates a cascade of change

Getting a free pedicure!This story started as a group of women hoping to improve their lives and that of their families—but it became clear that the story had become bigger and more powerful than that. The program’s capstone project tasked the women with supporting or organizing social activities that positively impact their communities. Ultimately the group adopted a senior center for the elderly. They committed to fundraising and contributing to the center, including securing free services from hairdressers and manicurists and organizing visits from children to interact with the center’s residents. The group is officially registering their project under the name Mujeres Dejando Huellas and plans to grow their organization using social media and other resources.

The chain of events inspired by Margarita will ripple out farther than even she could have imagined that fateful week during our Women in Leadership program a year prior. The pilot led to additional curriculum modifications, resulting in the hiring of additional resources to support the roll-out strategy intended in early 2016. Fundación WWB will start by offering the program to a maximum of 25 participants every quarter, training a total of 100 women in the first year. Women’s World Banking is exploring ways to develop a standardized curriculum that is flexible enough to be adapted to accommodate regional and cultural differences, amplifying Margarita’s ripple effect to our partner financial institutions and the wider world.