Guest Post by Katherine Kelly Lutton, Principal and Global Head of Litigation, Fish & Richardson PC
At last week’s Fortune Most Powerful Women dinner in Washington, I found myself sandwiched between CNN National Political Correspondent Jessica Yellin and Jane Roberts, former litigator and law firm leader and wife of Chief Justice John Roberts. Jessica and Jane, meanwhile, were sitting between two mentees from Haiti—two courageous women among 33 who are part of Fortune‘s Mentoring Partnership with the U.S. State Department.
I’m a mentor. How can I not be? Every April, Fortune invites women who come to its Most Powerful Women Summit to mentor rising women leaders from emerging countries around the world. The program seems right for the time. We have globalization on all fronts including the globalization of “communities.” Think about it. While social relationships and values and “mentoring” used to spring out of physically cohesive groups of people connecting according to commonalities (beliefs about God, job types, organizations), connecting this way too often meant a senior Caucasian man taking a junior Caucasian man “under his wing.”
Mentoring women leaders across the globe turns traditional concepts of community and mentoring on their head. I was inspired when I first saw this in action at the MPWomen Summit in 2008. Where do I sign up?! I did sign up—but I felt empowered to do more. What if I mentored with one other woman from Silicon Valley who would showcase her skills, experiences and contacts?. Or what if I teamed up with two women or three…or 50?
On behalf of all the women I knew, I signed up to “community” mentor.
Fast forward about nine months (the birth of anything worthwhile takes about that long), and “our” mentee, Susan Rammekwa, steps off the plane from her home country, South Africa. Susan is a highly religious woman who runs an NGO called Tshepang (“Have Hope”) Programme and an “empowerment village” for children whose parents have died from HIV/AIDS. For 200 homeless and parentless children ages three to 17, Tshepang provides daily care, access to education, social skills and a balanced meal.
She was the truly powerful one, She just needed resources, so the challenge for us began. During her month in the U.S., Susan was mentored by no fewer than 50 women who reached out to connect her with their communities of fellowship, business, religion, innovation, technology, social networking. The mentors in this totem pole included venture capitalists Ann Winblad and Heidi Roizen, politician Sally Lieber, Google GOOG executives Susan Wojcicki and Megan Smith, Intel CIO Diane Bryant, and women at Apple , eBay , Cisco , Palm (PALM), and even Wal-Mart …plus lawyers and judges, chefs, government employees, and all sorts of entrepreneurs.
Before Susan arrived, she asked me to sign her up for the gym, as she feared having too much free time and being bored. The only time she went to the gym was at 6 a.m. one day. She was anything but “bored.”
Susan arrived into the U.S. with a passion for what she could do for her community and left with the passion for exploring what her community could do for her. In the one year since her return, she has called on the community in Silicon Valley to buy a bus for her children so that they can safely travel to school. We collected $43,800 for Susan, and she bought her bus.
Susan, encouraged by her mentors here, also called on the women in her village to start a sewing project to make garments for her children. They sell some of these garments into the community, helping to raise money for her organization. Also, Susan’s orphan children are now operating a bakery, as she recently explained in a post on Facebook (one of the Valley’s resident startups).
So, I raise a glass to Susan and all those who are part of the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. This year, I’m co-mentoring a woman from Haiti named Gaelle Pierre. Gaelle co-owns GaMa Consulting in Port-au-Prince. Her firm provides offsite consulting in the ICT sector. Gaelle also founded the Foundation ETRE Ayisyen (“Be Haitian”), which empowers children and young adults to become entrepreneurs. If that’s not enough, Gaëlle has started a Cactus business making liquor and jam. She’s remarkable.
Google’s Susan Wojcicki and Megan Smith, who are officially my co-mentors, are learning a lot about Gaelle’s world, as she learns about technology and business-building in ours. But the real prize here is the community mentoring. We have 50 or so mentors again—on the bus, and it’s a great ride.
As a member the firm’s seven-person Management Committee, Principal Katherine Kelly Lutton manages the county’s largest Intellectual Property law firm. As the firm’s Global Head of Litigation, she manages the firm’s largest practice group of 260 lawyers in 11 offices worldwide. Before joining Fish & Richardson, Lutton had a very different life as a systems and software design engineer at General Electric GE . She graduated with a BS in Electrical Engineering from Binghamton University and an MS in Electrical Engineering from Syracuse University. She earned her JD from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she was Editor-in-Chief of the Law Review. She lives in Menlo Park, California with her husband and their two children, Liam and Trey. In her spare time, Lutton runs marathons.