Rebecca Self

Leveling the Leadership Pipeline

By | News, Rebecca Self

Trestle Group FoundationThe Trestle Group Foundation’s mission is to empower women entrepreneurs in emerging economies as they drive economic opportunity, growth and social progress. Our flagship Empowering Women Entrepreneurs Partnership Program identifies qualified female founders and business owners in emerging economies and partners them with established professionals who help build skills, strategies, practices and networks needed to create new opportunities, fulfill potential, and achieve long-term success.

We are often asked why we focus on women:

“Why only women entrepreneurs? “
“Why only women executive coaches in sponsor organizations?”
“Can men play a role in the partnership programs?”

Connecting women entrepreneurs in emerging markets, women executives, and diverse, cross-functional teams in sponsor organizations addresses global inequality in the workplace in several ways at once. And yes, men play vital roles as team members and volunteers!)

Serving women entrepreneurs in this way supports their success and social progress in emerging economies — it also simultaneously supports female executives struggling to reach the highest levels of corporate leadership.

The challenge today is not one or the other — it is one of integrating women fairly and completely into the global economy.

The challenges are daunting. For female filmmakers, founders, entrepreneurs and executives alike, the leadership pipeline is not level. Though women outnumber men worldwide in University enrollment and graduation rates — and outperform men academically — we are underemployed, underpaid, and underrepresented in business leadership, funding, and ownership.

This is not due to women’s choices. It is systemic, cultural inequality on the brink of transformation the world over.

Our approach to empowering women entrepreneurs has always been underpinned by a deeply held belief in driving economic inclusion, personal and professional development, and social change. One of the main things we’ve discovered over the last 8 years is that working together we can accomplish this for entrepreneurs and executives simultaneously and a world apart.

This week’s event at Oxford University: Power Shift Forum for Women in the World Economy has reinforced and reinvigorated our stance on economic empowerment and inclusion. In the coming days, we’ll be sharing recent research on this topic.

For further reading, here are several recent articles on the topic. Some refer to female founders, others to executive leadership. We are broadening out perspective here at the Trestle Group Foundation, as we see we are addressing multiple  demographics simultaneously in the effort to level the leadership pipeline worldwide.

On executive representation:
Catalyst 2013 Census of Fortune 500: “Still No Progress After Years of No Progress.” New York, 10 December 2013.

Zander, Christina. “Even Scandinavia Has a CEO Gender Gap.” Wall Street Journal online. 21 May 2014.

On empowering entrepreneurs:
Melanne Verveer & Kim Azzarelli. “The Other Gender Gap: How Women Entrepreneurs Are Getting Screwed Out of Funding.” Fast Company. 7 May 2014.

Nobel, Carmen. “Venture Investors Prefer Funding Handsome Men.”  Working Knowledge, Harvard Business School, 30 April 2014.

Entrepreneur Update: Figen Çakır, Figgi Yarns

By | News, Rebecca Self
Figen and team  PepsiCo Istanbul 2012

Figen and team
PepsiCo Istanbul 2012

We love hearing back from business owners after they’ve completed the 6-month Empowering Women Entrepreneurs Partnership Program, especially when they’ve taken the strategic advice and lessons from the program and used them to grow their businesses in new and unexpected ways.

This month, Figen Çakır, founder of Figgi Yarns in Gölcük, Turkey reports:

Within a few months of completing the program, I moved from a small office to a shop. At our last meeting, the Turkish members of the PepsiCo team were insistent about acquiring domestic sales (instead of relying 100% on export).

I was unable to find a reliable distributor so I decided to be a retail shop myself. In the last two months since opening I’ve sold as much Chic yarn locally as I have in six months overseas! Of course the price is much more ‘local’, but sales volume is higher and the product is moving faster.
I’ve also got local brands, but Figgi Yarns are prominent and have been a huge hit. The next step now is to set up a Turkish online sales website. It is no trouble to manage production, design and export sales as before. I have hired a part-time shop assistant who deals with the shop, so I am not speaking to walls anymore!

Figgi storeIt’s a small space and I’m also using it to warehouse some of my stock so excuse the messy appearance!

I do themes for the window dressing every month which apparently is a novelty in Turkey for yarn shops! I think it’s the

window which attracts people to it, usually yarn shops in Turkey have piles of yarn packets stacked against their windows. I’ve got a local woman working part-time, it has been a godsend for her to contribute to her home and the local community relate to her better than they do to me, so her presence has increased customer volume.Figgi store

Overseas sales has seen a drop, the Greece retailer has gone bust – their own recession problems – and the UK is suffering again. However, it’s always been up and down and local sales are a sustenance – the Chic cotton yarns have made a real splash locally and have been selling madly. Amazing.

Unbelievable that it’s only been less than a year since we met in Istanbul and so much has happened so quickly in between! I’m so grateful.

Figen, you’ve done a great job with a new strategy, storefront, hiring your first employee and developing yourself as a businesswoman. We look forward to hearing more about what’s next for you and Figgi Yarns.

International Women’s Day: Meet Susan Mashibe

By | News, Rebecca Self



Susan Mashibe remembers the moment she decided to become a pilot. She was 4 years old in Kigoma, Tanzania. She stood holding hands with her grandmother, watching as her parents’ plane took off.

“If I could fly that plane,” she thought, “they would not leave me behind ever again.”

Susan can also tell you about the moment she saw her first 747. She was 10 years old then, and standing at the Dar es Salaam airport, just above the current site of VIA Aviation – her own company’s office there.

It’s been quite a journey from her childhood in Mwanza and Dar es Salaam, to working her way through Western Michigan University, becoming Tanzania’s first female FAA-certified pilot and mechanic, to now owning and running VIA Aviation, dedicated to providing outstanding private jet handling and hangar services.

inside Kili Hangar

Mashibe founded VIA Aviation (formerly Tanzanite Jet Centre or TanJet) over 10 years ago. The company provides aircraft handling, clearances and ground support, security, and fuel in Dar es Salaam. At Kilimanjaro International Airport, VIA also has 80,000 square feet of hangar space. The company is currently rebranding for expansion from Tanzania across the African continent.

Susan exemplifies the entrepreneurial journey: “I have no fear,” she’ll tell you.

What she does have is deeply-held passion and conviction, first for aircraft, and then for proving that business can be conducted professionally across the African continent. She shares that commitment in this short video:


VIA Aviation from African Leadership Network on Vimeo.

VIA Aviation1How we support women entrepreneurs like Susan Mashibe
Over the years Susan has needed different kinds of support to build the business infrastructure VIA Aviation has required. At the Trestle Group Foundation, this is exactly the kind of entrepreneur we seek to serve. The world over, women are following their dreams and serving needs in their communities. They are visionaries, and learning fast to build the required business infrastructures for their organizations. This includes everything: accounting systems, marketing and communication, advanced strategic decision-making, valuation and more. They haven’t got time to learn each area of business themselves or take years off for MBAs.

At the Trestle Group Foundation, our function is to connect passionate, engaged women entrepreneurs in emerging markets with professional expertise in sponsor organizations. We believe that together, empowering women entrepreneurs to build thriving businesses, we support economic development and social progress.

As part of an innovative partnership with Equity Bank, Swisscontact and SCBF, Susan has been paired with a self-nominated, 20+ member, cross-functional team at Credit Suisse. The bank features this program as part of its commitment to skills-based volunteering. On Monday, 10 March, Susan will be a featured speaker in Zurich to honor International Women’s Day.

Empowering Women Entrepreneurs Changes the World for the Better
Research shows that empowering women entrepreneurs in emerging markets has a multiplier effect in their communities, fueling economic growth and social progress. Vital Voices’ outstanding publication Groundbreakers: Using the strength of women to rebuild the world economy includes the following:

In the book, Women Empowered: Inspiring Change in the Emerging World (2007), former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright cites the economic benefits of investing in women, pointing out that women reinvest 90% of their income in their families and communities, compared to men who reinvest only 30% to 40% of their income.

Susan Mashibe is an outstanding example — both as a role model for young Tanzanian girls and because one of her primary commitments is to give back through schools in the community where she grew up. We’re proud to do whatever we can to support her great work and commitment.

Susan w students at hangar


To find out more about VIA Aviation, see their Web site: VIA Aviation.
To learn more about the Empowering Women Entrepreneurs program, contact us.


Photos courtesy of Credit Suisse’s Evelyn Guyot and Louisa Freer, and Susan Mashibe and VIA Aviation.

Trestle Group Foundation & Credit Suisse Empower Tanzanian Women Entrepreneurs

By | News, Rebecca Self

The Trestle Group Foundation operates on the principle that empowering women entrepreneurs in emerging markets drives economic development, growth, and social progress. Our most recent partnership program in Tanzania illustrates first-hand the impact of working with women at every stage of the entrepreneurial journey.

Mwanahawa Maporo & Anne Inderbitzin

In connection with Equity Bank and Swisscontact, Trestle Group Foundation and Credit Suisse have teamed up for the second year. Four high-potential or high-performing flagship entrepreneurs have been paired with executive support from  Credit Suisse. Through Equity Bank, 500 women will have access to early-stage training. The program links executive expertise, financial capital, networks and resources, building a sustainable community of women entrepreneurs across Tanzania.

From a small retailer in Mwanza to a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader servicing private jets from Kilimanjaro International Airport, an architect-turned-developer to heavy investment in stone crushing for concrete aggregate, this year’s flagship entrepreneurs demonstrate courage and commitment as they grow their businesses.

Trestle Group Foundation and four Credit Suisse executives traveled this month to Tanzania for field visits to the businesses:

Mwanahawa Maporo runs Pink’s Quality Collections, a small ladies’ clothing retail shop on a central street in Mwanza Town. Though her background and training are as a journalist, Mwanahawa has a vision, and is committed that her clothing shop will expand to the new shopping mall in town. She needs a solid small-business infrastructure in place. Mwanahawa is paired with Credit Suisse Vice President Anne Inderbitzin (pictured at right).

Getrude Mahity & Marion Schmid
Getrude Mahity started out with a small bar-b-que and bar on a dirt road near Mwanza Town. Now she has over seventy full-time employees and has invested heavily in 20 acres of land outside Mwanza for a stone crushing operation. The equipment was recently imported from China. Getrude’s team seeks strategic advice as they launch the new business. She’s poised to create jobs and build infrastructure. Her Credit Suisse team lead is Marion Schmid (pictured with Gertrude here).

Of the team’s visit, Getrude said, “Your visit is a miracle to us! We are so young a company having an Executive delegation visit from outside Africa. We thank God for bringing you around, that our plan comes to reality.”

Subira Mchumo w/group

Subira Mchumo has run an architecture practice in Dar es Salaam for over a decade. Now she’s transitioning into real estate development, starting with an apartment building in a busy commuter suburb just outside town. Subira’s meetings with Credit Suisse and Equity Bank executives have highlighted the need for documented clarity around her business model and vision. The team will work together with her to document these, under the leadership of Credit Suisse’s Sylvia Kunnos (far left with Subira and the group at right).

Susan Mashibe & Louisa Freer

Susan Mashibe dreamed of being a pilot for Delta airlines. After September 11, 2001 she found herself returning to Tanzania as the first female dual certified pilot and aviation mechanic. Her company, VIA Aviation, services private jets and is in rapid growth mode, with plans to expand to 20 countries in Africa. Susan will work with the team to establish decision-making criteria to evaluate incoming offers and opportunities. A Credit Suisse team will work with her on her business plan, and numerous networking connections will move her toward valuation of her business.  Here Susan is pictured in Dar es Salaam with her Credit Suisse counterpart, Louisa Freer.

Susan will also be featured in Zurich during Credit Suisse’s programming for International Women’s Day.

Susan’s reaction to our first team call was, “I’ve been on a lot of these types of programs, and this one fills an unserved need I want you to know it’s important work.”

For the team at Credit Suisse, the program provides a rich and rewarding internal networking opportunity. Team members will come from across functions and organizational divisions to work together for the first time. It’s a skills-based volunteering engagement that gives back.

Cinzia De Martin Bär, Credit Suisse Diversity & Inclusion Switzerland, said, “Our  employees  -the coaches – are  so excited and I really think it has to do with the great time they spent in Tanzania working together to support the women entrepreneurs. They are having the time of their life, which of course makes us  happy too.”

Turns out empowering women entrepreneurs in emerging markets empowers women executives in Zurich, too.

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Meet the Panelist: Bemi Okorodudu

By | News, Rebecca Self

At the Trestle Group Foundation offices on Limmatquai in Zurich, we’re gearing up for our 18th September 7th Annual Event featuring a panel of executives and entrepreneurs from recent partnership programs.

Credit Suisse’s Bemi Okorodudu recently worked with an entrepreneur in Tanzania through a Trestle Group Foundation Partnership Program.

Bemi is a Senior In-House Consultant in the CFO Program Services department of Credit Suisse and a certified Lean Sigma Black Belt practitioner with extensive project management experience. She started her career in London and relocated to Zurich in 2007. She is a certified accountant, earned a BA in French and German, and holds a post graduate diploma in Accounting and Finance from the London School of Economics. She is passionate about diversity and mentoring, plays an active role in the Credit Suisse Multicultural Forum and is a mentor in the CFO and Women’s Network mentoring programs.

Here’s what Bemi had to say about Credit Suisse’s participation in the Empowering Women Entrepreneurs Program:

Meet the Panelists: Figen Çakır

By | News, Rebecca Self

In preparation for last year’s Annual event at Zürich’s Widder Hotel 18 September, the Trestle Group Foundation’s very first entrepreneur, Luna Shamsuddoha, reflected on her experience six years earlier, saying, “It’s given me so much confidence as a woman in technology. I’ve seen a change in myself. I can’t stop talking about education. I’m heard in many places — in government, in NGOs, in Universities — saying, ‘Girls should study science, math, English.’ It’s the Trestle Group Foundation program that gave me the confidence to be in these positions.”

Our most recent entrepreneur, Figen Çakır of Figgi Yarns in Golcuk, Turkey reports the same:

“A lot of things have changed since we began just a few months ago. The most important thing is how I approach the people I do business with and how I communicate with them. My PepsiCo coachVera’s amazing insights and support has changed me a lot. The Foundation’s belief in me is beyond valuable. I’ve conducted my first successful negotiation with a supplier – I just waited him out – and have also found a new spinner at much lower cost.”

In Figen’s case, the results are tangible. The team from PepsiCo Europe has created a brand toolkit complete with new mission statement, a digital strategy, and a robust financial dashboard that’s clarified her primary strategic focus for the coming years: increase sales volumes.


We’re thrilled to have Figen and several members of the PepsiCo team join us at the September 18 7th Annual Event. For more information, contact us.

Meet the Foundation’s Voice: Katie Ledger

By | News, Rebecca Self

Katie LedgerThe Trestle Group Foundation is thrilled to announce that for our 7th Annual Event, former BBC journalist Katie Ledger will lead a panel of executives and entrepreneurs from recent Foundation programs.

If you’ve followed our work over the years, you’ll recognize Katie’s voice. She’s the narrator of every film we’ve produced. What most viewers don’t know is that Katie has been a supporter and participant in our work and growth from the very first partnership, when she trekked through Dhaka, Bangladesh with our founder, Dana Smith, to capture Luna Shamsuddoha’s story on film. Of the experience Katie says, “I have never seen such determination and courage by a female leader, in a traditionally male industry against a backdrop of such unrelenting poverty.”

“I believe business has the potential to solve much of the world’s suffering. Many female entrepreneurs instinctively understand this and use their social & emotional intelligence help people, profit and the planet.”

We’re pleased to introduce Katie to you in person September 18th at the Widder Hotel, downtown Zurich. For more details, please contact us.


* Special thanks to our generous event sponsor: HCL.

International Women’s Day: Here’s What We Can Do

By | News, Rebecca Self

In honor of International Women’s Day, The Elders, a group of global leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela to promote peace and end suffering, posted on their facebook page:

At least 1 in 3 women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused.
What do you think is the best way to stop violence against women? Educating men; lobbying leaders to strengthen institutions; better support for women affected?

At the Trestle Group Foundation, we believe that empowering women entrepreneurs fuels economic opportunity, personal development and social progress. We’re a small group of individuals who’ve left successful careers in politics, management consulting and academia to work together with committed partners supporting women to build safer, stronger, sustainable communities around the world.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead

Economic Empowerment Serves Women, Children, Families, Communities 

International Women’s Day has been observed in numerous countries for over 100 years. The theme this year is ending violence against women. Economic empowerment must be a core component in any effort to end violence against women. As breadwinners, women’s value skyrockets and their voices soar. Working women invest 80% of their earnings into their families, having a multi-generational stabilizing effect at home and in their communities.

Women business owners and entrepreneurs serve as powerful role models showing others, including young girls, new possibilities for their lives and families. At the Trestle Group Foundation we’re honored to have first-hand experience every day with women entrepreneurs on the front lines of these social changes:

  • Luna Shamsuddoha is a role model who directs an award-winning software company, and has now created Bangladesh Women In Technology. She is shifting stereotypes about women, and encouraging women to build careers in IT.
  • In Tanzania, Fatma Riyami, Anna Matinde and Dina Bina shine as examples of what’s possible through entrepreneurship. They train, inspire and support women entrepreneurs through the Tanzania Women’s Chamber of Commerce.
  • Through Wrap Up Africa, Letha Sandison provides steady income and economic opportunity near the Uganda Cancer Institute, Uganda’s only cancer treatment facility.
  • Figen Cakir works together with her local municipality to provide access to markets for spinners and craftswomen in Golcuk, Turkey.
  • Nur Begen and Vijaya Pastala support organic farmers in their native Turkey and India, respectively.


Female entrepreneurs face predictable challenges, most frequently requesting support in three areas:

  •  Financial Analysis for more informed leadership decisions
  •  Marketing support
  • Access to capital and markets

At the Trestle Group Foundation, we’re working hard every day to create new ways to promote, empower and connect women entrepreneurs in developing markets with the resources, expertise and networks they need. With our six-month flagship partnership program, custom training offerings, and access to finance through partner organizations, we’re joining forces to empower women entrepreneurs, fueling economic opportunity, development and social progress. Program participants report increased confidence, clarity on the direction to go with their businesses and lives, and support to go to the next level.

We wish there wasn’t a need for International Women’s Day. We believe this is what we can do. We’re inspired by our partners, colleagues and cohort every day.

Luna Shamsuddoha: Empowering Women Entrepreneurs in Bangladesh

By | News, Rebecca Self

Six years ago this week, the Trestle Group Foundation shot this film with its very first entrepreneur, Luna Shamsuddoha of Dohatec in Dhaka, Bangladesh:

Luna Shamsuddoha will strike absolutely no one as a shrinking violet.

As she looks back at what’s changed since our partnership, though, she says:

It’s given me so much confidence as a woman in technology. I’ve seen a change in myself. I can’t stop talking about education. I’m heard in many places — in government, in NGOs, in Universities — saying, ‘Girls should study science, math, English.’ It’s the Trestle Group Foundation program that gave me the confidence to be in these positions.

Luna also shared that in Bangladesh, where 40% of the country still live on under $1 per day and 50% of the population is under 18 years of age, little opportunities make a big difference. “I never realized that before the program,” she said. “There haven’t been too many women entrepreneurs in technology. As Bangladesh moves into this new IT space, I’m encouraging girls in Universities and schools. It makes a difference.”

As a trustee of Independent University Bangladesh, a member of the Board of Governors of  the Underprivileged Children’s Educational program, founder and President of Bangladesh Women in Technology, Mrs. Shamsuddoha is one-woman force for social progress in her home country.

She is not alone. Government initiatives, increased access to microfinancing opportunities, and continued support from businesses, academic institutions and non-governmental organizations outside the country provide support to greater numbers of women entrepreneurs.

And Dohatec? Is it the next Microsoft? In Bangladesh it is! Since 2006 Dohatec developed Public Procurement MIS and is creating the electronic government procurement (e-GP) for the Government.

As a source of inspiration, income and increased opportunities in the future, Luna is exactly the kind of entrepreneur the Trestle Group Foundation seeks to empower and support.

Luna will be in Zurich this week for the 6th Trestle Group Foundation Annual Event. We look forward to hearing more about how she and Dohatec have grown.

Introducing Wrap Up Africa, a business built to support families facing cancer

By | News, Rebecca Self

Letha Sandison didn’t start Wrap Up Africa because she’d always wanted to build a business; she saw a need and asked, “What can I do?”

Cancer kills more people than HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined. In Uganda, where she and her family were living, Sandison encountered countless families struggling to save children with cancer (especially highly treatable Burkitt’s Lymphoma). They were unable to pay for chemotherapy or basic living expenses. Letha is an artist and admired the local textile traditions, so started building an organization to train relatives of pediatric cancer patients to be tailors, then sold their products in her native United States. Demand for Wrap Up Africa’s services has been overwhelming, and the business model recognized by the Clinton Global Initiative and Lance Armstrong’s LiveStrong Foundation.

The Trestle Group Foundation, with generous support from COFRA Foundation, is assisting Letha as she builds a sustainable, high-end fashion business that will serve families for years to come.

How can you support Wrap Up Africa?

There are many ways you can support Letha’s great work:

Wrap Up Africa seeks bridge funding as the business grows. This funding will cover salaries, provide technical training for tailors, and improve the machinery on which tailors work.

By addressing middlemen and corruption, Letha has driven down the cost of chemotherapy per child from over $1000 USD to just $544.  Click here to donate now to help Wrap Up Africa provide life-saving chemotherapy.

Watch the video below to learn more about the remarkable market-based solution Wrap Up Africa provides for these families in their time of need and far beyond.


Wrap Up Africa from Amanda Bontecou on Vimeo.

related news article: Using Entrepreneurship as an Anchor for Social Change