It’s been over two weeks since uBack co-founder Melissa Bodford returned to normalcy at uBack following a life-changing experience at the Global Ambassadors Program (GAP) in Charlotte. The partnership between Vital Voices and Bank of America is now in its fifth year, aiming to support female entrepreneurship, leadership and growth. The program paired 12 experienced women leaders from across the globe with 12 women poised to make an impact on their community and who are reaching a tipping point in their professional, business and leadership paths. Five days of intense collaboration, mentorship and empowering conversation has left Melissa a changed person. Read on for a personal note from our co-founder, chairman & CEO on what this experience means for her and for us here at uBack.
* * * * *
I always thought I was an advocate for female equality – I believed women could lead a workforce, run a company, contribute to growth in the economy the same as a man, so I lived my life and pursued my career with that attitude. While I was attending the Global Ambassadors Program, I realized that all of that was true, but despite being raised in one of the top five poorest cities, as a woman born in the U.S. and someone with the benefit of a solid education, a successful corporate career plus a network of connections and support that reaches coast to coast, I had never truly felt the struggle of what women can go through trying to break down a barrier. I live in a country that requires equality, to a certain extent, by law. And while it’s far from perfect, other parts of the world show women a much more difficult path to making an impact…yet still they push on.
At the GAP, I was surrounded by women who were so inspiring, so incredibly admirable that I felt overwhelmed to be among them. These were women from countries whose social laws historically might not support them; yet they devote their lives to conquering what seem like insurmountable challenges to improve the world around them. These projects might include ensuring companies in emerging economics build local capacity and have the capability to harness natural and mineral resources to create sustainable jobs, or engaging young minds in STEM across the Middle East and North Africa. These are women who just stand taller to be seen; shout louder to make themselves heard and constantly find another way to keep moving forward.
I was partnered with Dilek Dayinlarli for the week. She’s an accomplished CEO from Istanbul, Turkey who made her mark as a venture capitalist and it was invaluable to listen to her thoughts and input about uBack. At first impression, she was lovely and poised, yet unassuming and not intimidating. When we began our work together, I was overwhelmed by her belief in me. It was as if she could sense a level of strength and determination within me; a strength that maybe she believes all women on a journey have within themselves. She absorbed what I gave her and dealt me back some of the most constructive and insightful feedback I’ve ever received. Her ability to articulate the issues I face and paint a picture of the future with the solutions to get us there gave me a renewed sense of determination to get where we’re going. It reminded me of all the reasons I started uBack with my partner and sharpened my focus to reach for more.
I took so much from this program. By the end of the week I felt clear headed and energized to hit the ground running with a fresh perspective. Key takeaways:
- 1. Let go of any negativity in your life with love. Not everyone adds to your life or mission. If there are those who deplete your energy and take away from your vision or seek to quiet your voice, let them go with love.
- 2. Maintaining focus is a common issue for startups. At the beginning of a company’s evolution when you’re trying to establish yourself, it’s easy to get off track going after things that aren’t in support of your core goals. I am committed to defining the true focus of uBack’s mission and not chasing the bright, shiny objects that pop up to distract us.
- 3. In the face of challenges and adversities, these women made progress. They had an impact and they forged forward no matter what. The difference between them and so many others is that failure is not an option. So often, we pursue a project with the intention to succeed, but if it doesn’t work out, we can always do something else. After this week, I have a reignited sense of purpose to build uBack, not just into a bigger and more successful company, but to truly make a difference in the world. uBack makes giving simple – it’s accessible, intuitive and takes advantage of the tiny moments we have to capture someone’s attention and engage them to contribute. By continuing to improve this process and spread a message about the importance of being a change-maker, the more we can help people contribute to micro-level changes that all add up to a macro-change that is big enough to make a real difference in the world.
Out of hundreds of submissions from all over the world and more than 230 eligible applications, it’s hard to put into words what it means to me to have been one of 12 women to have this opportunity. Thank you to Vital Voices and Bank of America for continuing to recognize the need for this program. Thank you to Dan Roselli for sending me the application and constantly thinking of ways to elevate the women entrepreneurs in the Charlotte FinTech community. True to the name, women’s voices have never been more vital and as a leader, I feel a responsibility to make an impact and be heard. After the Global Ambassadors Program, I have the tools to do just that.
- - Melissa Bodford
Co-founder, Chairman & CEO uBack