April 2, 2014
April 1, 2014
Carmen Romero von Banga
My passion is to create new innovative financial tools to empower women in developing countries.
About fifteen years ago, after completing my studies in finance and banking, I embarked on a career path that had been selected by my father according to society's standards. I worked in private banking, in investment banking and in private equity in several countries. I also worked on a trading floor for two years. From a woman’s perspective, this type of environment was harsh, challenging and limiting. Even so, I was always part of a pioneering team, developing new markets and financial instruments in Latin America and in Eastern Europe.
I had always been involved in fund-raising initiatives for various causes and organisations. I tend to think outside the box especially when it comes to fund-raising. Einstein said: ‘Logic will take you from A to B; imagination will take you anywhere’. So I had fun creating successful fund-raising ventures such as the ‘Invisible Ball’, 0.01% of 1 day’s trade margins given to charity, and a theatre play by underprivileged children for the City of London.
In 2000, in parallel with my regular job, I founded ‘Second Chance’, an education project in Brazil – now existing under www.proa.org.br. The business model was very simple: education and a skilled trade. Teenagers from the shantytowns surrounding Sao Paulo attended semi-government owned schools and acquired skilled trades such as: electrician, mechanic, orange picker, baker, and seamstress. We formed partnerships with Brazilian and international corporations who were looking for skilled employees to work in their factories. The corporations paid for each student’s tuition, all the way through to the completion of the apprenticeship after which, they employed the newly graduated students. That was the main condition: employment. We started shyly with 12 students. A few years later we were placing about 5000 students in the project. Companies were approaching us when thinking of opening factories and planning to employ skilled staff. Productivity was soaring, teenagers were coming out of poverty and a new local economy was born. The model is simple enough to be replicated anywhere else in the world. The key to the success is to involve actively all parties: the students, the parents (some of the unemployed fathers were driving the school buses), the teachers, the schools, the government, the companies, and the community, in other words, being responsible and working towards self-empowerment and also the empowerment of their local communities. A couple of success stories: one of the girls who went through this project was so brilliant that she was sponsored further through university and medical school. She is now a doctor. Two boys excelled in mechanics, so they were sent to work at Mercedes Benz in Germany for six months.
In 2011, I became a Business Mentor with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women in Business. My mentee is based in Kenya. One of my achievements this year is the feedback received from her: ‘You taught me a business a lot more than just making profit it is also about how will I benefit society. That was one of my greatest lessons’. In addition to setting up her seed business Mavuno Seed http://mavunoseed.co.ke/. and her Agriculture Consultancy Services Company, Angela - my mentee - has been named Interim Vice Chair for the AIN (Agricultural Industry Newtork) in Kenya.
Above all, I am aiming at mentoring; speaking, teaching women and helping them find their power and use it. It is only a question of time before women are equal to men in decision-making from a community to a Government level. This is the year when the ‘domino’ effect starts. Technology such as Twitter is also helping tremendously. Women’s voices throughout the world need to be heard. Women need to be given the chance to find, and use, their inner and outer power.
Mentoring is an extraordinary tool. Alas not many people use it. I too have a mentor. He is fantastic. He is my secure base and I can check in with him any time. His objectivity helps me stay on track.
As a child, I had a dream of becoming an architect. I am an architect - in a way. I do not build houses. But I do build structures that create meaning and long-term value for the environment, communities and society.
To conclude, one memory I would like to share. One Sunday morning when I was 8 years old, I went to see my dad who was having breakfast. I told him that life was like a washing machine: you had to go through many cycles, before coming out clean. He looked at me, almost in shock.
So to everyone out there, always speak up your mind and embrace the spinning cycles of life, as these will bring you to a point of fulfilment you would have never imagined. And remember to taste all the colours of the rainbow, so that you know what you like and what you dislike. When you stumble, take time off, do some soul-searching, and try