by Patricia Sellers
Gerry Laybourne likes to stake out new ground.
As a cable-TV pioneer in the '80s, she built Nickelodeon for Viacom (VIAB).
Later, she founded Oxygen Media to fill a female void in media.
In the past two years since she sold Oxygen to NBC Universal (GE) for nearly $1 billion, Laybourne has been advising a few small businesses and serving on boards--Symantec (SYMC), Electronic Arts (ERTS), and, pending her nomination, J.C. Penney (JCP). Meantime, she says, she's "thinking about another start-up."
Laybourne is always on the move. Which is why it wasn't so surprising last week when she told us she was pioneering again--this time, very far away, in Uganda. Laybourne was walking in Kampala, Uganda's capital, for a cause.
She was participating in a Mentoring Walk, an African offshoot of an event she created in the U.S. Back when she was CEO of Oxygen, Laybourne began gathering a few hundred women--high-placed friends like Meryl Streep, Diane von Furstenberg, J.P. Morgan Chase's (JPM) Heidi Miller--in Central Park and pairing them with young aspiring women for advice-fueled walk-and-talks. Laybourne eventually did a dozen such sunrise walks in cities across the country. Now, as Oxygen's owner, NBCU continues the tradition in the U.S.
On November 21, there was not just the Mentoring Walk in Uganda. Mentoring Walks took place in seven other countries across Africa and Latin America--all inspired by Laybourne.
Fortune too plays a role in the international expansion of the idea. The organizers of Mentoring Walks in five countries on November 21 are alums of the Fortune-U.S. State Department Mentoring Partnership. Each year, this program pairs participants of Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit with rising-star leaders from across the developing world. These international mentees close out their month-long U.S. stay in Manhattan, and when they're here, Laybourne invites them to her Upper West Side apartment to chat.
Hearing about the U. S. Mentoring Walks from Laybourne, several mentees ran with the idea--or rather, walked with it across the globe.
"Coming back home, mentoring other women has become my mission," says Rehmah Kasule, a mentee of Axa Equitable Life Insurance Co. (AXA) EVP Barbara Goodstein in the 2009 Fortune-State Department program. Kasule runs Century Marketing, her own firm, in Kampala. On November 21, she drew 350 women and girls came to her Mentoring Walk there.
The real value of the Fortune-State Department program is when mentees pay it forward, so to speak, back in their home countries. That same Saturday, Lucy Kanu, a 2008 mentee of Exxon-Mobil (XOM), staged her second annual Mentoring Walk in Nigeria. Other Fortune alums put on Mentoring Walks in Argentina, Bolivia, and Egypt. Vital Voices Global Partnership, a non-profit group, helped organize the events. Vital Voices also supports the Fortune-State Department program.
If Laybourne could have cloned herself, she would have made it to all eight Mentoring Walks across the world. Turns out, she made it home from Uganda in time for Thanksgiving. She decided to give thanks this year, she says, "for a world of smart, energetic, game-changing women."
P.S. Read Laybourne's own blog post about walking and mentoring in Uganda.
Seventy of New York's top women in media joined 160 aspiring young women for a "Mentors Walk" in Central Park this morning. It was drizzly and great. NBC Universal (GE) and Step Up Women's Network, a non-profit group all about advancing women and girls, hosted. The Mentor Walk's creator, former Oxygen Media CEO Gerry Laybourne, was there along with J. Crew (JCG) President Tracy Gardner, Bank of America (BAC) Merrill MOREPatricia Sellers - Jun 11, 2009 3:15 PM ET
Where in the world is Gerry Laybourne? Last we heard, she sold Oxygen Media for almost $1 billion to General Electric's (GE) NBC Universal. The media-industry icon, who had built Viacom's (VIAB) Nickelodeon before creating Oxygen, has been notably quiet since her mega-sale in the fall of 2007.
In fact, I didn't know what Laybourne was up to until last week, when I ended up at her apartment on the Upper MOREPatricia Sellers - May 26, 2009 3:33 PM ET
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