Guest post by Cecile Thirion, TechWomen Impact Coach
I’ve been involved in the TechWomen program since 2012 as both a Professional and Cultural Mentor. This year, I decided to join as an Impact Coach. Impact Coaches are women working and living in the San Francisco Bay Area who meet regularly with Emerging Leaders to strategize, coach and support them in developing an action plan that addresses a socioeconomic challenge in their communities. I joined as an Impact Coach this year because:
According to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Facts and Figures:
- 783 million people live below the international poverty line of $1.90 a day.
- More than 5 million children still die before their 5th birthday each year.
- Maternal mortality ratio in developing regions is still 14 times higher than in the developed regions.
- 617 million youth worldwide lack basic mathematics and literacy skills.
- More than 80% of wastewater resulting from human activities is discharged into rivers or sea without any pollution removal.
Countries around the globe are addressing these major challenges. And yet, let’s not underestimate the role global, regional and local communities can play to alleviate these problems and build a better world for future generations. Enter the TechWomen community, where emerging women leaders in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) from 20 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Central and South Asia are paired with more than 60 Impact Coaches in Silicon Valley in September and October to address a socioeconomic challenge in their country.
This year again, another TechWomen cohort developed specific action plans with community-based missions:
- To help youth, marginalized women and individuals with disabilities not be left aside from economic growth and job opportunities.
- To reduce maternal and newborn mortality.
- To tackle waste management.
- To improve the education of children and students by giving them access to technology, career counseling and learning opportunities.
My country team, Team Kyrgyzstan, hoped to launch the first career counseling platform to help the new generation fulfill their full potential and contribute to the economic and social development of their country. My role as Impact Coach was to lift up this group of women. Here are some of my reflections:
Create a supportive and thriving environment
I was there to help Team Kyrgyzstan explore social issues, ask questions, uncover areas of significant social impact and challenge them with their solution for the better through the action plan process. Most importantly, I had to make them trust I had – with the other Impact Coaches – their best interest in mind. Indeed, as women from developing countries, we could feel how social forces and cultural norms might prevent them from speaking up and making their voice heard. Most of them had less confidence at the beginning, which wasn’t the case at all at the end of the program!
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts
Each country group comprised women with very different backgrounds. Some got to know each other before traveling to the Bay Area, some did not. Kyrgyzstan was no exception. This team was made up of a CEO of an online travel startup, a programmer, a math teacher, a lead developer, a business analyst and a civil engineer. When you connect talented women with different skills, experiences and personal networks, you end up with a successful team. Or, as team member Natalia said about the meaning of teamwork, “We learned how a group of people who don’t know each other can become a team.”
The journey is more important than the destination
As excellent their action plan and pitch were, Team Kyrgyzstan didn’t win a seed grant to kick-start implementation of their project. The outcome did not matter, however. They realized they were all winners and are committed to carrying on this social impact project. At the end of the day, this is not about the seed grant but about the lessons and experience they have learned along the way.
Giving is growing
By giving back, I have learned so much. I keep gaining knowledge and growing my skills not only by learning from these talented women in STEM fields but also from the mentor community. And, it’s priceless.
Whether you decide to be involved in the TechWomen program or any other social impact initiative to solve our world greatest challenges, keep in mind that when you coach locally, you impact globally. This next generation of women leaders can and will make an impact in their local communities through the use of technology. They just need to believe they can do it, one action plan at a time.
Cecile Thirion is a marketing executive with 17 years of global sales and marketing experience spanning the U.S., Europe, Latin America and Asia Pacific. She is also a Growth Marketing Mentor with GrowthX Academy and a mentor with the Refiners, a cross border start-up accelerator in San Francisco. Cecile is the recipient of two 40 Under 40 awards: from Direct Marketing News (DMN) and the Silicon Valley Business Journal. She has been a TechWomen Professional and Cultural Mentor since 2012 and launched the TechWomen Mentor Alumnae Organization in 2014 with fellow Bay Area mentors.