When you first meet Carolina Hernández Acevedo, it’s as if you have run into an old friend. Her warm, welcoming personality makes you feel as if you have known her for years. You quickly notice her outgoing nature, sharp intellect, willingness to share, and eagerness to learn. You are all the more impressed when you realize the fundamental changes she made in a little over a year.
In June 2014, Carolina, of Colombia, joined 25 other women leaders to participate in the 60th Global Women in Management (GWIM) workshop in Washington, D.C. The workshop brings together women from diverse cultures and countries to share, examine, and adapt best practices worldwide for expanding women’s economic opportunities and meeting the needs of their communities and countries.
“GWIM was different from other workshops that I attended,” Carolina said. “First, because of the multicultural aspect. Also, the fact that you disconnect from your life for a month. In other workshops, you are attending the training, but at night you go back to your home with all the problems, or the routine that takes place when you get home. So, the disconnection, making friends, and the authenticity of this safe space make GWIM unique.”
The four-week residential training covers topics such as leadership, gender, economic participation, fundraising, project management, monitoring and evaluation, financial management, advocacy, and strategic communications. While the GWIM workshop is designed for mid-career women from civil society organizations (local nongovernmental organizations, cooperatives, business women’s associations, etc.), their areas of expertise differ. These differences provide an enriched environment where the participants learn not only from the facilitators, but also from each other. The varied experiences also mean the impact of the workshop is different for each participant.
“I think the workshop increased my self-esteem and my leadership abilities,” she says. “But, not the leadership where I tell you what to do, but how my learning style, my personality, and other things encourage other people to want to follow me in a much more harmonious way.”
After graduating from GWIM, Carolina participated in the innovative GWIM coaching program. This year-long program pairs recent graduates with trained, GWIM alumna coaches to help them process their experience, implement the action plans they created during the workshop, and apply their learnings to build on success in their organizations, programs, and professional and private lives.
“I loved my coach and the coaching process,” Carolina said. “I began the process thinking that there are a lot of things I want to improve in the organization in which I was working.”
Carolina implemented much of what she learned during GWIM in the programs she was responsible for as a program manager. She raised $146,000 to improve her programs and implement new ones.
“I had under my charge the women entrepreneurs’ project. There were three sessions before beginning the production process that helps to germinate self-esteem,” she recalled. “It was a matter of adding in practical exercises that helped the women reach that new place. I think if you saw it today, you would realize that program has a lot from GWIM, because it is the way to reach women…to empower them.”
While Carolina was able to implement changes into her programs and even in her personal life, she was not satisfied. Carolina’s coach helped her to identify the problem.
“In the [coaching] process I realized that really that wasn’t what I wanted,” she said. “I remember when I started with the organization five or six years ago, they asked me ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ And, I said in my own organization. I had forgotten that.”
A year after graduating from GWIM, Carolina left her position as a program manager and became an entrepreneur. Along with her husband, she started a consulting firm specializing in organizational development, gender, and advocacy.
“We often think we are free and making our own decisions, but society itself leads us to make those decisions. From school to your family to the patriarchal society that tells you what the model you should be following is,” Carolina said. “GWIM helped to remove that veil from my eyes and recognize to what degree is this really a conscious decision or is it a decision that is influenced by others. Many times, with the excuse of meeting expectations, you don’t really think about what you want. And, that was what was happening to me.”
Though her business was only launched a few months ago, Carolina knows this decision was the right one for her. She credits the GWIM program for helping her to change her path.
“I’m a more empowered woman, a lot more self-assured. Capable of saying I can do this, I can’t do that, but I can learn how,” she said. “It’s a continuous process of learning. It’s about balancing and being open to learning from others. You are able to rediscover yourself, and, by transforming oneself, you can transform others.”