Banking on impact: 10 years of partnership with Bank of America

Diving deep into our transformative collaboration.

This past decade has witnessed significant challenges, changes, and developments for women’s entrepreneurship in low and middle income countries, from shifting policy focuses to a worldwide push for business digitisation, and from evolution of the CSR landscape to enormous macroeconomic challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Across this period we have enjoyed a transformative partnership with Bank of America on our sector-leading Mentoring Women in Business programme. The partnership has not only led the charge in terms of corporate commitment to global development but has also yielded measurable, life-changing results for women around the world. This case study delves into our partnership’s story, illuminating innovative strategies and enduring impact as we celebrate a decade of success together.

How it all started

Bank of America first partnered with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, as a corporate partner on the Foundation’s Mentoring Women in Business programme, in 2013.

At that time, Bank of America was looking to expand the work it was already doing to support more women globally and evaluating organisations for partnership outside of the U.S.

The Foundation and the Mentoring Women in Business programme was selected primarily for three reasons:

  • Staff engagement: The programme presented Bank of America with a unique opportunity to directly engage its employees in its efforts to partner with organisations for global impact.
  • International focus and global reach: While Bank of America had partnered with organisations to create community impact in the U.S., the partnership supported the bank to be increasingly international in its strategy and invest in communities worldwide in order to create global impact.
  • Engagement and impact enabled through (then-new) technology: In 2013, video calling was a new phenomenon. The Foundation, and by extension Bank of America, was at the forefront of harnessing this for both corporate volunteering and for global development.

The programme itself was also in its infancy, having launched two years prior in 2011. The partnership with Bank of America presented the Foundation with a fantastic opportunity to achieve its ambitions of supporting women across the world, as well as to build a robust, sustainable programme with longevity.

The partnership fit nicely into our decision to support women entrepreneurs. There were a lot of organisations out there that we could have partnered with to support women, but the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women was so aligned with where we were going as a bank.

Pam Seagle, Senior Vice President Women’s Programs, Bank of America

What, how, when and who

The programme has been delivered consistently with Bank of America as partners since 2013. Each year, Bank of America teammates around the globe join the programme to serve as dedicated professional mentors to women entrepreneurs in low and middle income countries, donating their time and expertise for a 12 month period. The bank funds their participation and that of their mentees.

At the time of writing, 900 Bank of America employees have taken part as mentors and nearly 1,200 women with businesses in low and middle income countries have been supported as their mentees.

Bank of America’s mentors typically come from diverse sectors of the company and bring to the programme a wealth of expertise in areas such as business planning and growth, finance, marketing and communications, operations, partnership development and strategy. They are of all genders and each mentor has at least seven years of professional experience.

The most common countries that women who are mentored by Bank of America’s employees live in are Nigeria (537 women / 48% of mentees), India (78 women / 7% of mentees), South Africa (67 women / 6% of mentees), Guyana (56 women / 5% of mentees) and Argentina (34 women / 3% of mentees). 80% of mentees live in urban areas, 15% in peri-urban and 5% in rural.

These women’s businesses are typically fairly early-stage, with 59% being within one and five years old at the time of joining the programme. 15% have a business that’s under a year old, and 7% are preparing to launch their business – working with their mentor to do so.

The top five industries represented amongst mentees’ businesses are agriculture (13%), food/drink (12%), fashion design (12%), education and training (11%) and consulting (7%).

Bank of America employees are carefully matched by the Foundation with their ideal mentee to ensure the strongest relationships and outcomes. They receive training and support to step into their roles as mentors – as do mentees. Mentors and mentees meet for around two hours a month through the Foundation’s purpose-built online mentoring platform for a one-year period. The relationships are structured over four phases and are supplemented by webinars, resources and support from the Foundation’s team.

Technology has remained a consistent theme for the programme and the partnership ever since, with advances in technology over the last 10 years serving to keep strengthening both the partnership and the programme. The online mentoring platform was redeveloped in 2021 to support an even smoother and more impactful experience for mentors and mentees.

During the partnership Bank of America has also collaborated with the Foundation in other ways:

What went well

“This partnership has been extremely easy for the bank: A winning formula that has been productive, steady and smooth-sailing” said Pam Seagle, Senior Vice President Women’s Programs at Bank of America. The programme has also consistently enjoyed engagement and dedication from the bank’s workforce, with many mentors participating for multiple rounds, and with strong buy-in from the wider team.

Even when [my Bank of America mentor] didn’t have the answers, he did the research to get the answers for me. Every time he came back with research or words of encouragement. He’s awesome.

Kemi Amosu, founder, Women in Business Network and alumna mentee, Nigeria

Connectivity has been the bedrock throughout, with technology enabling Bank of America to engage its worldwide employee base with ease, as well as directly reach the Foundation’s global network of women entrepreneurs.

Furthermore, ten years ago connectivity and digital literacy was far lower in low and middle income countries than today – particularly for women. In this way, the partnership also enabled the programme to support women to build their understanding of and engagement with technology for business, enabling their inclusion in an increasingly digital world.

Particularly of note was that the remote volunteering that the programme facilitates enabled Bank of America’s employees to continue volunteering and feeling connected to their company and to the global community through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The programme can be very easily scaled, with the number of mentors contributed in any given (twice-yearly) cycle – and thus also the funds committed – increased or decreased with ease. Of particular note is that in 2020 Bank of America was able to rapidly respond to the pandemic’s impacts on women entrepreneurs by increasing its investment in the programme, supporting gender equality, global business resilience and growth through the economic crisis.

Challenges arising

While technology has been a driving factor of the programme and partnership’s successes in many ways, it did present somewhat of a double-edge sword at the partnership’s commencement back in 2013 when video calling was still a new and very unreliable phenomenon. What’s more, Bank of America had a significant firewall and was not set up to facilitate external video calls readily. This entailed much internal advocacy and a heavy lift from the bank’s tech team in order to enable colleagues’ participation. As such, the enormous benefits tech offered in terms of engagement and impact also spelled a pronounced challenge and time expenditure at the inception stage.

Thankfully, the last 10 years have seen significant advances both in terms of technology enablement and connectivity, and in terms of the bank’s willingness to adopt new tech platforms. This has meant that engaging in mentoring has become even easier for Bank of America’s workforce.

What’s more, this initial expenditure of time and effort in setting up the programme is no longer expected of new partners thanks to broad changes in how businesses approach technology – particularly in the post-COVID world.

Benefits for women entrepreneurs

The Mentoring programme is designed specifically to support women to start, sustain and grow their businesses by enabling them to develop skills, knowledge and confidence, and to overcome specific challenges and achieve specific goals.

An enormous 97% of women who are mentored by Bank of America’s team members go on to apply skills that they have learned to their businesses. These skills include business strategy and planning (63% of mentees), business development in terms of increasing customer and client base (59%), increasing market reach and accessing new markets (42%), marketing (42%) and business administration (40%).

The achievements that these women make with their mentors are huge, and cover a wide range of areas: 55% of Bank of America’s mentees go on create new or different products or services, 53% implement a business plan or strategy, 39% implement a communications or marketing strategy, 36% enter new markets and 25% actually launch their businesses. Crucially, 50% of mentees credit the programme and their mentor’s support with keeping their business from going under.

Impacts are long-lasting, with many mentees citing their Bank of America mentor’s support and guidance as playing a significant and lasting role in their professional development and the success of their business: 79% of mentees from the May 2022-2023 cohort increased their customers, 73% increased their business revenue, and 52% increased their number of employees.

My [Bank of America] mentor showed me that I run ahead of myself a lot and that then stresses me out and pulls me back. She was a very positive mentor and that’s stayed with me since. Her training to think about the long term and big goals, then break it down into steps is something I still use today.

Suubi Njuki, founder, Suu-bee Ltd and alumna mentee, Uganda, reflecting on her mentoring relationship nine years later

Benefits for mentors

In addition to the powerful outcomes mentees receive, the programme also supports a range of strong professional development benefits for mentors that feed back into and enhance their own work. These include:

  • Building communication, problem-solving and leadership skills.
  • Gaining knowledge of different industries, markets and cultures.
  • Increased job satisfaction and pride in their organisation.
  • Development of new perspectives.
  • Greater confidence in their own capabilities.

100% of Bank of America’s employees who took part most recently at the time of writing gained both professional and personal skills, and 100% also gained insight into the global challenges faced by women entrepreneurs. 97% of gained knowledge in a new culture or a new market.

What’s more, 100% of Bank of America’s employees who took part would also recommend the programme to a friend or colleague.

Bank of America note that the programme plays a strong role in tackling the ‘imposter syndrome’ experienced by so many professionals. Many may question what they could offer someone else at first but their experiences of mentoring shed light on how much they know, what skills they have and how strong a leader they can be.

[Mentoring] has been an extremely rewarding experience. Not only was it thrilling to see Kemi’s business grow, the experience made me a better manager and mentor at Bank of America as I learned valuable lessons in patience and developing an understanding of the many challenges others face.

Charu Manu, Managing Director, Bank of America and alumna mentor, USA

Many Bank of America employees want to ‘give something back’. The programme provides a way for them to engage in philanthropy and contribute to global impact, which is perfect for a company with such a global workforce. Mentors’ time is extremely valuable and mentoring offers a way to ‘donate’ that’s more personal – and potentially more impactful – than making a financial donation. This facilitates a strong sense of making a difference, which contributes to overall fulfilment and happiness.

Benefits to Bank of America

It is a fundamental pillar of the programme that the skills, experiences and confidence that Bank of America’s employees develop by serving as mentors feed directly back into and enhance their work at the company, supporting the cultivation of a skilled, knowledgeable workforce with strong leadership capabilities and wide-ranging expertise. However, the bank has seen multiple other benefits.

The partnership has supported Bank of America’s increasing brand as a global company that supports women and their businesses worldwide, and visibility in the ESG and CSR spaces.

Internal identity too is supported, further enhancing employee’s sense of belonging in the knowledge that they work for a company that support women’s businesses in low and middle income countries. The bank measures employee satisfaction annually and consistently achieves strong agreement on the statement “Bank of America is committed to my communities”.

The programme creates an incredible sense of pride for all of our employees.

Pam Seagle, Senior Vice President Women’s Programs, Bank of America

This also translates into a sense of pride amongst the bank’s employees that is not limited to just amongst those who participate as mentors. An important element of the partnership is the Foundation’s regularly production of high-quality stories for partners about their employees who mentor, their mentees and their achievements together. These are shared through the bank’s internal network so that employees are able to see what the bank is doing around the world to support women and create global impact.

This satisfaction and sense of connection to the bank amongst staff directly translates into employee tenure and helps to reduce turnover, another important benefit to the business.

Global impact

The benefits that the partnership has created so far extend from the individual to the community and economy levels.

The programme is renowned for enabling jobs to be created and skills and knowledge to be trickled down in communities worldwide. Thanks to support from her mentor, a Managing Director at Bank of America, one mentee in Honduras, Celia Duron, was able to increase her business sales and revenue by 18% and 33% respectively during her year on the programme. This enabled her to hire two new employees whom she then mentored herself.

The support that Bank of America extends to women-owned businesses through the Mentoring programme has allowed for new ideas to be pioneered, vital community services to be strengthened, families to gain wealth and security, and crucially for women to boost their own leadership and agency.

At the time of the partnership’s launch, businesses everywhere were still contending with the after-effects of the global financial crisis – particularly those  run by women in low and middle income countries. By contributing mentors, the bank was able to support a targeted recovery for some of those hit hardest. Additional macroeconomic crises and challenges have followed such as the COVID-19 pandemic, rising inflation and the cost of living crisis, again all disproportionately affecting women-owned businesses in low and middle income countries. The programme has provided Bank of America with a means to contribute sustainably to recovery where it is needed most.

With women-owned businesses providing a backbone to the economies of many of these countries, it is difficult to overstate the vital nature of the support that these women receive to build resilience, overcome challenges and sustain their businesses.

This collaboration has not only been beneficial; it has been transformative. It's a testament to what can be achieved when organisations come together with a shared commitment to gender equality and economic empowerment.

Cherie Blair CBE KC, Founder, Cherie Blair Foundation for Women

What’s more, Bank of America’s provision of such critical and consistent support in the early days of the Mentoring Women in Business programme had a catalytic effect on the programme’s impacts outside of the partnership. The bank’s support enabled the Foundation to invest in further development of the programme, scale and refine delivery through learnings, secure new partners, and ultimately achieve increasingly more robust outcomes, thereby indirectly impacting on the 6,000 women entrepreneurs that the programme has supported in more than 100 countries over the years.

In this way Bank of America and its workforce are able to make a global contribution to women’s economic empowerment and to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 5 (gender equality) and 8 (decent work and economic growth).

What can others take from this?

For Bank of America, the partnership has worked so well because it is long-term, and because it is consistent, with the bank also citing the Foundation’s leadership and communication as strong.

Long-term partnerships ensure efficiency and productivity on both sides, and create greater impact. As in Bank of America’s case with the Mentoring programme, there may be an additional upfront expenditure in terms of setting up the partnership and establishing ways of working, but this is an investment that pays off over the duration of the partnership. Given the programme’s predictable and cyclical nature, this initial outlay is a one-off ‘cost’, but the programme and partnership is also flexible and adaptable, allowing tweaks and changes to be made easily and quickly.

For partners, the programme’s reliability and consistency supports clear and smooth planning and budgeting, and creates an assurance that expectations will be met. Similarly, Bank of America does not need to spend a great deal of time reviewing the partnership and its outcomes every year. This allows the bank to focus its resources on actually creating impact rather than administration.

But above all, for Bank of America, the mission of the programme is critical and the bank can clearly see the impact that the partnership catalyses at the individual and community levels.

This is a winning formula that can be replicated with corporations worldwide in order to achieve their strategic objectives and create global impact for women entrepreneurs.

We absolutely see this partnership as part of our global commitment. We think local, we think about the impact that we make in individual communities as a global presence. We think about our commitment to women and their entrepreneurship. All of these ladder up over 10 years.

Pam Seagle, Senior Vice President Women’s Programs, Bank of America

Join us as a partner

Through our Mentoring Women in Business programme, your company and team can play a pivotal role in advancing global gender equality, contribute to a more equitable business landscape, develop your workforce and achieve your own strategic objectives.