Groundbreaking Mentorship Program for Native American Youth Marks Four-year Anniversary in March

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MBA Women International pairs mentors with Navajo youth and inspires at-risk high-school girls to become leaders

"The Shideezhí Program supports young women to make informed choices about their future. If I can do it, anyone can do it," Philana Kiely, Founder of Shideezhi and Vice President of MBA Women International

MBA Women International (MBAWI) marks four years of an innovative mentoring program for young women in the Navajo culture. The program was conceived and launched on March 9, 2009 by Navajo native Philana Kiely while she was a student at the University of Houston’s Bauer College of Business. Today, Kiely serves as MBAWI Vice President of Programs and Chapter Development.

On researching the social landscape of North America, Kiely identified the Navajo Nation as a place of critical need, thus, the Shideezhí Mentoring Program was created. The challenges faced by the Navajo are much like those of a developing nation:

  •     More than half the Navajo Nation is unemployed
  •     Nearly 40 percent of Navajo people live below the United States’ poverty level
  •     Educational attainment is substantially lower compared to other geographic areas or ethnic groups with 8.60% of Navajo earning a Bachelor’s degree compared to 27.50% in the United States

These challenges create an unstable environment for teenage girls and contribute to a cycle of dependence, teenage pregnancy and alcoholism.

“On the inaugural trip four years ago, I did not know what to expect. I grew up in Arizona in the Navajo culture and experienced the challenges first-hand. Yet, I had been removed for so long,” said Kiely. “I re-discovered hardships similar to those in developing nations. This is why the Shideezhí Program supports young women to make informed choices about their future. If I can do it, anyone can do it.”

The groundbreaking program pairs MBAWI members with young Navajo women. The Shideezhí Mentorship Program was created with the goal of building bridges and inspiring hope for these young women. The initiative draws from Navajo cultural traditions that emphasize the importance of relationships particularly in the extended family.

“Shideezhí” means “My Little Sister” in the Navajo language. As big sisters, or ádí, the program mentors encourage their little sisters to reach short-term and long-term life goals, including high school and college graduation, entry in the workforce and contribution to society.

“Since its inception, MBAWI has been dedicated to empowering women as leaders. The program emphasizes the importance of education for women and advances the MBAWI mission of preparing women to reach their goals,” says Gail Romero, Chief Executive Officer, MBAWI. “By taking the time to guide and inspire one young woman through their own life experiences, each mentor can play a powerful role in the positive development of an at-risk Navajo youth. With lessons from the Shideezhi program, we will begin an international mentorship initiative for women with small businesses.”

Studies have shown that mentoring influences young people by enhancing their social skills and emotional well-being, improving cognitive skills through exploring different perspectives and listening, and by adults acting as a positive role models and advocates. Studies also show that teens want trustworthy adults to take an interest in them.

Participating in a mentoring program at an early age also helps boost their self-confidence and steers them away from harmful practices, the toll of which is costly not only to the individual but also to society in terms of health care, welfare, and legal costs.

By empowering these young women through mentoring, Shideezhí has the potential to significantly improve the lives of not only its participants, but also the families and communities in which they live.

Become a Shideezhí Program Mentor
Due to the distance between mentors and mentees, the pairs primarily communicate electronically, usually by phone or email. Face-to-face interaction is also important in relationship development. The pairs meet twice each year to develop stronger relationships. To become a mentor, go to this link for information:

Become a Corporate Sponsor
The Four Sacred Mountains are the holiest places of the Navajo. The Navajo people believe the sacred mountains protect their lands and assure them strength and blessings from the earth. The Sacred Mountains are associated with a precious stone. Sponsorship levels are based on the Four Sacred Stones of the Navajo. For information about becoming sponsor go to

About MBA Women International
MBA Women International is a 30-year-old organization dedicated to advancing business women as corporate leaders, executives, and entrepreneurs. MBAWI is dedicated to helping women become leaders, as well as helping corporate leaders connect with top MBA talent. The network includes professional chapters in top-tier U.S. cities and collegiate chapters nationwide. Formerly the National Association of Women MBAs, the organization changed the name to reflect an increasingly international commitment to developing and promoting strong women leaders in the corporate world. Visit

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Debra Daugherty

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