During my recent trip to Bosnia Herzegovina for the US Embassy, I interviewed my friend and colleague Aida Daguda, CEO of the Civil Society Promotion Centre (CPCD), a mentee in the FORTUNE 2009 mentoring program and an amazing leader.  Aida created mentoRING 2012, a program that put together 115 mentoring pairs (all women), with 40 mentors coming from businesses, 24 from government and politics, 23 from NGOs, five from media.  I talked to her about her work to build civil society and women’s leadership.

Foster: I was so honored to be part of the dinner to celebrate mentoRING 2012 in Sarajevo.  What were your goals for the program?

In the spirit of this year’s topic for International Women’s Day “Connecting young women – inspiration for the future”, our organization, Civil Society Promotion Center, initiated an action aimed at connecting young women who need support in career development with successful business women that are recognized for their contribution to the society. Goals of this program were: to introduce and promote mentoring concept in Bosnia and Herzegovina; to strengthen cooperation among women in different  sectors of society; to highlight strength of women and power of joint work. Also, this is a pioneer initiative who is exploring strength of this idea, in other words, how far we can reach without the financial support of some donor, relying on local resources, social networks and volunteer work.

Foster: Can you talk about what inspired you to develop this program, and how you and your colleagues put it together?

This idea came to my mind in 2009, during my participation at the FORTUNE mentoring program. I was amazed (and jealous) of the level of cooperation and connections among US women from different sectors and with power and energy which united women can produce. After my return to Bosnia, I tried to raise funds for starting such program, but without success. This year, at the end of February, I was discussing with my two colleagues, Dragana and Aida, how we can celebrate International Women’s Day, and which is the best present for a woman. Of course, the best present is knowledge and support in achieving personal and career goals. Therefore, we decided to start mentoring idea on totally new way – without money, but with enthusiasm and use of Facebook. During your last visit to Bosnia, two years ago, I have started Facebook group named “Most Powerful Women of Bosnia and Herzegovina”. That group now has more than 1300 members, women from whole territory of BiH, and we have there beautiful discussions, sharing opportunities, news, photos, happy and sad news. In just nine days we received 250 applications for participation in mentoRING program. Huh! Although our estimate was around 20 mentoring pairs, we ended with 115 pairs.

And of course, I want to mention here my mentors – great and inspirational women who were there for me when I need it most. This is kind of paying it forward.

Foster: People seemed really excited about the program.  What feedback have you received and do you plan on continuing the program?

Yes, we have had great feedback. It seems that all of us have something inside, oriented to support each other, and that we all just need an opportunity to do something concrete. Participants are satisfied – we found out something new about ourselves and about other women. The best thing is enormous amount of energy and enthusiasm. Since we gathered a lot of successful women, from different areas, now we have a huge pile of resources that will be used for further advancement of young women. By the end of the year, after mentoring days are over, we will organize several training programs, where women will teach other women on different issues. Also, we will definitely continue this program, and our small team already started to define contours of program for next year. This first year was pilot phase, where we have learned a lot of lessons, so our next round of mentoRING would be even better, and we are all excited about that.

Foster: Can you talk a little about your work at CPCD and what issues your organization works on in Bosnia Herzegovina?

Well, my life and my carrier were influenced by war, unfortunately. I am mechanical engineer by profession, but I have started with my work in international humanitarian organizations just after the war finished. After 10 years working for several international organizations (out of which five years were for the International Rescue Committee), I felt that it was the right time to transfer my knowledge and expertise to local organizations. So, I have been at the Civil Society Promotion Centre, and since 2008 I have been the CEO, where we have different activities related to strengthening relations among government, NGO sector and business sector in Bosnia, and in the region of Western Balkans.

Foster:  As you know, I was back in Bosnia Herzegovina to talk about the importance of women in public life. From your perspective, what are the best approaches to interesting women in BiH to get involved?

Aside of personal activism, it is possible to get involved by joining numerous NGOs and their initiatives. However, we have specific situation that local NGOs have less resources, but they are organizing more open and inclusive activities than stronger organizations (stronger in term of financial strength). I believe, and that is proved by mentoRING, that we in Bosnia desperately need more social capital, and not financial capital. So, we need to use a lot of informal and formal gatherings in order to strengthen social networks among women from different sectors, and to provide space for brainstorming and flourishing of ideas. Media could and should play an important role. Our program shows that “secret” woman connections beneath surface can produce big results in promoting women unity and solidarity, and also support new generation of women to achieve even better results in future.

Foster: Any final thoughts?

Yes, I want to express my gratitude to US government because they gave me opportunity to participate in such a great program as the FORTUNE mentoring program, which proves that connections between women works across the Atlantic as well. And that I am happy because my dream became true.