What impact can you make with the Aspire Foundation?

  • Posted on March 18, 2016

The following blog post was written by Avanade alum Mina Rahimi.

Through the Aspire Foundation, Avanade people, one-to-one, are taking one hour a month to encourage, mentor and support aspiring women in non-profit and charitable organizations around the world – and it is making a difference.

Avanade partners with the Aspire Foundation mentoring program as part of our Corporate Citizenship initiative. Aspire matches Avanade women and men at all levels with women in the non-profit and charity world and provides the opportunity for those being coached to discuss work-based challenges and gain new perspectives from a mentor in the business world.

See just how much of an impact mentoring can make first hand as told by Avanade's Mina Rahimi and her mentee Penny Lapakio

The Impact of Avanade and the Aspire Foundation as told by mentee Penny Lapakio:

Aspire Foundation, to me is a hidden treasure I discovered.  Coming from a background where I have only grade 12 level of education and being a rural village woman, truly I can't believe the changes I am starting to see especially at personal level. I thank Aspire Foundation from the bottom of my heart.

Frankly writing I had zero idea about mentoring. Even worse I don't know what is internet too. All I knew was the name and they said the world is in it. The nature of the organization I am in charge of, called Enga Women In Coffee, requires more work and exposure both at local and international level. I took into consideration the responsibility I had to shoulder to move the organization forward and also the limitations I had mostly at personal level. This prompted me to search the web somehow and here ended up with Aspire Foundation.  Since taking part in this mentoring program now I can access internet, receive and send emails and virtually see my mentor talking live with me on Skype.  For me this is a great change. When compared with other women especially primary school teachers and nursing officers from my area though they are educated as far as college level and in work force they literally don't know how to use a computer, internet is no exception.

Above all, my mentor from USA Mina Rahimi is my perfect match. Aspire Foundation has its own criteria to match a mentor with a mentee but I am convinced beyond doubt that my mentor is a true blessing. She is more than a mentor. Myself and the Enga Women In Coffee's 500 plus rural village women members consider Mina not just as a mentor but see her as one of the key person in our organization. She is very helpful, generous and an understandable lady. In our first meeting I was nervous and was in a pressure. I was thinking how I am going to speak English to her. Is she going to clearly understand me?  I might make her confused with my English and make her upset too. All these conflicting thoughts were flushing in to my head. However she just understood me very well. Her effort and time committed to help Enga Women In Coffee is just hard for me to express here.  I am very glad and proud to have such a resourceful lovely woman as my mentor. I have a firm belief that with my mentor I will see great changes not only at organizational level but also personally too.

With this I think I am a good example to my women folks here in my province and also my country. I am changed by Aspire Foundation mentoring program. My scope of understanding and knowledge has broadened and I am exposed to wider global communities. Proud to be part of Aspire Foundation's mentoring program.

The Impact of the Aspire Foundation as told by mentor Mina Rahimi:

I initially signed up to be a mentor for the Aspire program because it was something I could participate in, regardless of my travel schedule.  I then attended my first session to go over what Aspire was all about and what it means to be a mentor. Once you attend you will be hooked! There is a great community of mentors and mentees around the world and the conversation with individuals that are part of this organization will inspire you. I know it did me.

Right after this mentor training session, I was given a list of individuals to choose from as people I thought may be a good fit with me as their mentor. Penny Lapakio was on this list and who I selected. Penny started Enga Women in Coffee to empower rural women in the coffee value chain. She has provided the means for these women to grow their own coffee to help out them and their families and has grown her group of women to 500+.  I had been interested in Fair Trade Coffee for several years and what some organizations were doing around this and due to my 6 year old nephew having a fascination with Papua New Guinea (I had gotten an ear full on this far away land and everything about it for the last year. :)) so, I thought this might be an interesting person I should work with and reached out to have Penny as my mentee to get a better understanding of the place and people I had heard so much about.

My first meeting with Penny was incredible. She came to the meeting prepared with key goals she wanted to address which was extremely helpful for me that she knew exactly what she wanted to do. They were the following:

  1. Create more of a presence for her organization
  2. Fundraising
  3. Get the same price for her coffee as the men that came to market. 2 kina vs. 5 kina
  4. Figure out a way to get a truck for the organization

As we talked about the technology that Penny had available to her I found out she has to travel an hour to get full internet access for our calls. She is in a very remote area and must travel to town for that. Now anytime I start to complain because the bus is late or something isn't going according to plan, I think of what Penny has to do to keep her organization going. I am also very respectful of ensuring I make our calls due to some of the technology challenges.

We discussed getting more of a social media presence. I talked to Ovex Jamaika, a young man who is helping Penny and the organization with their technology, about getting Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and some other not for profit site presence for Penny set up. We are working to get a dedicated computer for them to utilize for the development of their website and trying to find free tools to assist them in this development effort.

Penny amazed me on our next call. After we discussed fundraising, she had taken her dowry pigs (which are very important to a woman and her family in Papua New Guinea) and auctioned them off to raise money for a jeep to haul the women's coffee to market. Currently, the Enga women walk 3 days carrying bags of coffee to get the coffee to market. Penny also got other women in the organization to do the same with their dowry but it is very difficult since these pigs are the prized possession of a family there. They are currently half way to their goal to get a jeep.

Fair Trade, which I have read a lot about in the past but would have no idea how to get set up, I thought would be the best bet for Penny to try to get a fair price for their coffee. We are currently working with Aspire and their network of mentors to reach out to individuals that have a background in Fair Trade to see what they can do for Penny and the Enga Women to get them a fair price.

I do not feel like this is just a mentor/mentee relationship. I am there to be Penny's mentor but I have gained so much insight and knowledge from Penny also about ways to go about things in my own life. Sometimes just getting away from what you know and discussing things with someone outside of your everyday routine can help you in having a new insight. I started this out with a once a month phone call and as Penny just told me on our call before the holidays that she wanted to thank me for the help and talks but also, "The Ladies" as she calls the 500 women that work hard on growing and planting coffee for the Enga women, also wanted to thank me. It made me realize the couple of hours a month I was spending with Penny was helping out a whole community and it really brought me a lot of joy to know that.

Penny is such an incredible inspiration of what one person can do for their community and I enjoy or talks immensely.

I would recommend for anyone to at least try out the Aspire program they may be surprised at how much it will bring them in their life to be a mentor.

For more information, visit Avanade's corporate citizenship site

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