Meet the HERlead Mentors

Laura Alonso

When Laura Alonso was a young girl in Argentina, thousands of people began “disappearing” into thin air. For several years, the military dictatorship would wage a violent campaign of state terrorism against liberal activists, rebel fighters, and the people who helped them. 

Laura grew up witnessing corruption and the frightening potential of unchecked government power. She decided from an early age that a good government should be accountable to its citizens and not harm them.

After obtaining a Masters degree from the London School of Economics, she returned home to Argentina to put her political ideals into practice.

Laura headed up Poder Ciudadano (Citizen Power) one of Argentina’s leading government watchdog organizations, before her election to Congress in 2008, where she represents Buenos Aires for the PRO Party.

Laura’s political activism reaches beyond Argentina’s borders. Through a partnership with Transparency International, Laura trains non-governmental organizations in Latin America and Southeast Asia on safe and effective government monitoring.

Panmela Castro

As a young woman interested in art, Panmela Castro was drawn to graffiti and its transformative power to convey a message. Living in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro as a young woman, Panmela became immersed in the city’s dynamic art scene and began to establish her reputation as a graffiti artist. Also known by her graffiti name, Anarkia, she uses her work to raise awareness about women’s rights and to draw attention to the pervasiveness of gender-based violence.

The Maria da Penha Law on Domestic Violence against Women, a law granting legal protection and the ability for women to combat violence, was enacted in Brazil in 2006. Panmela recognized this as an opportunity to combine her love for graffiti and her passion for women’s rights. Through a network of women graffiti artists, Panmela began to raise awareness about the law in the favelas of Rio, where access to information is often limited.

Panmela formed Rede Nami, an urban art network of female urban artists that addresses gender inequality through public art, graffiti and workshops in Rio. Panmela now sees her mission as transforming the roles of women in society by using her art to teach people about women’s rights. These efforts have empowered those women who were previously too afraid to speak up to share their stories. 

Today, Panmela travels internationally to share her vision painting in cities across the globe, including Berlin, Paris, Istanbul, Prague, Johannesburg, New York City, Toronto, and Washington, D.C.

Maria Pacheco

Growing up in war-torn Guatemala City convinced Maria Pacheco that she would heal the earth by moving to the mountains and becoming an organic farmer. For a time, that’s what she did.

Hearing of this woman and her expertise, farmers from a nearby village asked her for help with their parched and sloping hillsides. Maria discovered that the land was inarable and its indigenous people were desperate for a way to provide for their families.

It wasn’t long before she found herself on a mission to bring prosperity to communities that others had long forgotten. Maria created Kiej de Los Bosques (Friend of the Trees), a company through which she connects local weavers and artisans to national and international markets.

Through Kiej, quality of life for families in the local communities improved dramatically, and Maria’s work drew national attention. Even the First Lady of Guatemala took notice, reminding her that there are more than 4,000 indigenous communities throughout Guatemala.

That’s when she learned about scalability. As a participant in the first FORTUNE/U.S. State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership with Vital Voices, Maria was paired with Kathy Calvin of the United Nations Foundation. Through the mentorship, Maria created new strategies for taking her work to scale. She returned to Guatemala, committed to creating prosperity for thousands more people in need.

Kah Walla

Kah Walla started her consulting firm Strategies! in Cameroon with a commitment to hold the company to world-class standards and nothing less. Her business would compete not only with the best in Africa, but the best in the world. Her Douala office attracts clients from Africa, Europe and the United States.

The woman-owned, women-run firm boasts annual sales of $500,000 and continues to grow. But Kah recognized her success story did not reflect the experiences of most women working in Cameroon, one of the lowest-ranked countries in the World Bank’s gender-equity index.

In 2008 — in collaboration with Vital Voices — Kah launched a pilot program with women sellers in one of the largest produce markets of Douala, where 900 women traders had no voice in market operations. Through the program, women sellers formed an association to advocate collectively — for improved conditions, elimination of double-taxation and for the creation of a level playing field for women in the marketplace.

As a business owner and as an elected member of the Douala City council, Kah is finding solutions to systemic challenges that inhibit women’s economic advancement in Cameroon. The same principle that guides her company’s success guides her work in government — a firm belief that Africans have all of the ability, all of the resources and all of the capacity to be able to respond to the needs of the people who live there.

Kah was a candidate for the 2011 presidential election in Cameroon.

Luz María De La Mora

Luz María de la Mora is the founder of the firm LMMConsulting, a Mexico-based company devoted to helping companies increase trade and devise business development strategies. LMMConsulting has worked for international organizations and government agencies as well as a variety of local and foreign companies. As part of her responsibilities currently, she is the Program Director of WEConnectInternational in Mexico, a corporate-led non-profit that helps build sustainable communities by empowering women business owners to succeed in local and global markets.

She is an expert in foreign trade relations and international public policy, and has held multiple posts within the Mexican government representing their interests in foreign trade negotiations.  In these positions she was responsible for designing and implementing Mexico’s cooperation policies and programs, coordinating Mexican positions in international economic organizations, developing strategies for Mexico’s trade negotiations in Latin America and the Caribbean, negotiating and implementing Mexico-EU trade programs, and conducting private sector consultations in trade negotiation processes.   

Yin Myo Su

Yin Myo Su, known as "Misuu," grew up in Burma (also now known as Myanmar) in an era marked by political violence, widespread povery and repressive control of information. Now, as Myanmar makes its transformation to a democratic and open society, Missu is redoubling her efforts to protect its culture, nature and people. In 1995, the entrepreneur and conservationist partnered with her family to build the Inle Princess Resort, a socially and environmentally responsible business that invests in the local community.

It is a business model that reflects Misuu's values; she "seeks first to achieve maximum social impact, rather than maximum profit." In this time of transition, Misuu wants to use Myanmar's growth to elevate its people. Her approach is to establish a distinctly local model of socially responsible business. Her vision is rooted in the culture, values and environment she inherited; Misuu is doing her part to ensure that these ideals are preserved for generations to come.  

Samar Minallah Khan

Raised in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province, Samar Minallah Khan benefitted form her father's progressive values. She was encouraged to pursue higher education and studied anthropology in Europe. Upon returning home, Samar saw more clearly the discrimination and inequality that violate's women's human rights. She decided to approach harmful cultural practices as an anthropologist and filmmaker.

To catalyze enduring social change, Samar forms partnerships with influential community members, many of whom are men. Samar partners with village elders, police officers, religious leaders, fathers and brothers to bring stories of "men as heroes in the lives of their wives and daughters" to the mainstream. "I have a strong belief that it's extremely important to engage men to shift culture. I believe that this is one of the most important answers to culturally sanctioned forms of violence against women." 

Kakenya Ntaiya

Engaged at age five, Kakenya Ntaiya was supposed to undergo ritual circumcision by the time she was a teenager - an event that would mark the end of her education and the beginning of her preparations for marriage.

Holding fast to dreams of becoming a teacher, Kakenya negotiated with her father; she would would go through the ceremony only if she could also finish high school. He agreed.

After completing high school, she negotiated with the village elders to do what no girl had ever done: leave her Maasai village of Enoosaen to go to college in the United States. The girl who grew up without electricity wrote papers on international relations and political science on the computers in the university library.

Kakenya earned her doctorate in education and is now a passionate activist for girls' education. She has experienced firsthand the freedom and opportunity afforded a secondary education, and now she's realizing her dream to provide the same for the girls of Enoosaen.

In May 2009, 32 girls from the region enrolled at the Kakenya Center for Excellence, the girls' school Kakenya built in her village. In 2013, 160 girls attended the school and the first class will graduate. 

Priti Patkar

From a young age, Priti was drawn to social work, believing that all people deserve compassion, to live with dignity, and that a person’s vulnerability should never be exploited.

While at University, Priti began to visit the red light district and work with one of Mumbai’s most marginalized groups, prostituted women. She learned that most had inherited the trade from their mothers; they grew up in the brothels believing that life in the sex trade was predestined, only further cemented by their caste.

A night shelter changes everything. It was a simple, but unprecedented solution. Priti opened her first childcare center in 1986 in Kamathipura, one of the busiest red light areas in Mumbai. Today, she runs four shelters, offering comprehensive child care 24 hours a day. Children receive meals, health care, education, and a safe place to play. Their mothers have access to medical care and vocational training. Priti’s organization, Prerana, offers alternatives, a chance to break the cycle.

Adimaimalaga (Adi) Tafuna’i

Due to a lack of local economic opportunity, many Samoans work abroad and send part of their income home to their families. These remittances, while valuable, perpetuate a cycle in which generations of Samoans leave the island for opportunity elsewhere.

 Visionary entrepreneur Adi Tafuna’i believes this dynamic can and should change. Adi was determined to enable women to earn an income where they live in order to educate, feed and care for their families. Adi’s vision was to leverage local resources to connect Samoan women to global markets. “Finding niche markets like coconut oil and noni juice is the only way the Islands will achieve in the world market,” she says. “It’s about helping rural people, encouraging them to use the natural products around them… helping them to earn a living from what they have access to.”

Today, thanks to Adi’s efforts, health and beauty items sold in nearly 50 countries use coconut oil produced by Samoan families