by Patricia Sellers
This past week brought the tragedy in Tucson, President Obama’s soaring sermon about national unity on Wednesday night, and then the news that a visit from a clutch of her Congresswomen friends prompted Rep. Gabrielle Giffords to open her eyes for the first time.
This seems an appropriate time to share another demonstration of unity. Though this one is taking place half a world away.
After a suicide bomb outside a Christian church in Alexandria, Egypt killed 21 people and raised concerns about the increasing divide between Muslims and Christians, an email conversation has been swirling among alums of the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring program. These rising-star women from developing countries shadow leaders in the U.S.–participants of the annual Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit–and return home to “pay it forward.” After their mentoring experience in America, they are supposed to do good in their own countries.
As it turns out, these women (149 women from 43 countries, in total, since we launched the program in 2006) have done much more. They have created a global network of support for one another.
It was an email from Amany Eid, one of our 2010 “mentees,” that sparked this online conversation among the international women. Amany lives in Cairo, works in the telecom industry, and did her U.S. mentoring gig at consulting giant Accenture
. Here’s what she wrote to the other mentees whom she met when she was in America last spring:
I am writing to you all now, at the most miserable period my country has witnessed in my opinion. It is a time of sorrow for both Muslims and Christians after the horrific attacks on one of our big churches in Alexandria. The country really is in mourning…Muslims and Christians lived harmoniously for ages and ages. If there is discrimination, it is done on the Political level (which Muslims and Christians in Egypt have no power over altogether), not on the social level, because as people we have never felt the difference, despite foreign allegations… I attended Mass yesterday night with my Christian friends, in support — as the risk they face, we will also face. I hope my country finds peace soon.
With that, Nana Beecham in Ghana (who shadowed the top women at Xerox
for her mentoring gig), replied:
You should not keep the pain away from us. We are supposed to be supporters of each other–not only in good times but the bad as well…Sometimes by hearing what others are going through, we are better able to cope with our own struggles as they tend to look quite insignificant in comparison…So what I will say to all my Fortune sisters is that we, together, are a net for each of you.
Other women from all over–China, Argentina, Tanzania, Jordan–chimed in to express their support. Dudu Msomi, a South African entrepreneur whose U.S. mentors included financial-services analyst Meredith Whitney, shared Shylock’s words from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice: “I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes?…” She added: “It was not only because I was living in an Apartheid country that those words had such an impact on me, but they just speak to all humanity. As Fortuners, we are the world. From most corners of the world.”
When we created the mentoring program five years ago, we expected an exchange of ideas between Fortune‘s MPWomen in the U.S. and future MPWomen abroad. That, we achieved. The bonus has been the creation of a global network of empathy and mutual support. All we had to do was light the spark.