From where Lula Mena sits, the outlook for her home country of El Salvador is bleak. “We have no identity as a country. We are losing our traditions,” she says. “We don’t feel proud to be Salvadorans.”
That’s in large part what inspired Mena to start her business, which designs and develops home and fashion accessories that are handmade by communities of women living in violent or rural areas of the country. “These women are amazing human beings with no opportunities,” she explains.
Mena says that before working with her company, many of her employees lived six families to a single house. Now, some can afford to be homeowners and have access to running water and electricity. “I’m trying to rescue the traditional techniques,” she says, “and to have a positive face of my country anywhere I go.”
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Mena was one of 21 women from around the globe who traveled to the U.S. this spring to participate in the Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership. In its 12th year, the three-week program matches women from countries ranging from Argentina to Zimbabwe with some of the top female executives in the U.S. This year’s mentors hailed from companies including Fidelity, Mastercard (MA, +0.34%), IBM (IBM, +0.12%), Accenture, S’well, and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ, -0.89%). Mena was matched with Sherrie Westin, EVP of global impact and philanthropy at the Sesame Workshop.
Non-profit Vital Voices helps runs the orientation and debriefing piece of the programming and stays connected to alumnae when they return to their home countries.
Mena said that one of the best parts of her experience was getting to know the other mentees. “We are the same as women,” she says. “We had to deal with the same kind of problems. It doesn’t matter where you live or what you do.”
This is the last in a series highlighting some of the program’s mentors and mentees. Click here to see the rest of the series.