Yolanda Londoño

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Tupperware Brands Corporation

Few senior executives began their career traveling by horseback or canoe in rural Colombia working with the “poorest of the poor,” or journey from rural economic development projects for women through USAID (United States Agency of International Development) to JPMorgan Chase’s downtown Houston office as vice president of public affairs. Today, Yolanda Londoño is vice president of global social responsibility for Tupperware Brands Corporation in Orlando. There, she directs and develops local and global philanthropic initiatives, cause-related marketing and global giving strategies with emphasis on programs that educate and empower women and girls.

The daughter of a geophysicist, Londoño returned to Colombia as a foreign correspondent for UPI, but was recruited by USAID. Explaining the transition, “I was mesmerized by the idea that I could move beyond simply talking or reporting on things that were happening, to having the opportunity to become an actual agent of change. I was bringing what might appear to us to be common sense solutions, to seemly insurmountable problems and obstacles for these women. What led me into USAID was the same thing that led me into journalism: curiosity. I always have wanted to know the ‘why’ and ‘can we make it better or make a difference?’”

In Colombia, she met her husband, a demographer with a doctorate in economics who also worked for USAID. They moved to London where she landed a job with the early software developer, Logica Ltd., and led their marketing division, but left when her first son was born.  The family then moved to Quito, Ecuador, where her second son was born. Though Londoño couldn’t find a job in Quito commensurate with her background, she diligently honed her leadership and administrative skills, volunteering with different women’s organizations. She commented, “I learned event planning, fundraising and newsletter writing; it was an incredibly fruitful time for me.”

From there, they went to Harare, Zimbabwe. She worked for a time in the Argentinian Embassy and again with USAID. Years later, when her son was in high school, he would write of his experience, such as seeing Nelson Mandela being paraded through the streets of Harare after his release from prison in South Africa, describing it in retrospect as transformational. Londoño reflected, “Years later we are still unpacking the experience.”

 

Reentry Into the U.S.

The family returned to the U.S., after being expatriates for years, and she answered a small ad looking for a “bilingual executive director.” For what, she didn’t know. Not hearing back, she did a little pre-Internet research and found it was for the fledgling Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, though, she admitted, “I didn’t know what a chamber was.”

She was offered the position and a short time later, attended one of her husband’s demographic conventions where she discovered the Hispanic population had grown in Houston by 78 percent in 10 years. The potential was limitless. “It was one of those experiences where you never say ‘no’ to any open door. I went to so many rubber chicken dinners and so many networking events. I didn’t know anything about where I was, but I drew from my experience with USAID, as it was all about economic empowerment, particularly with women who needed access to capital and understanding on how to position their business,” Londoño said. “A few years later, I was sitting in the White House for the ratification of NAFTA, which when I first heard of it, thought of Argentinian Spanish where it meant ‘gasoline.’ That was amazing.”

Her success at the Chamber, growing it from 200 members to just under 1,200, gave her the opportunity to become the director of tourism for the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau and lead the Houston Image Group, which was charged with branding the city to the nation and the world. The head of corporate philanthropy for JP Morgan Chase was on her board and when she decided to move on to a new position, she recruited Londoño for her position.

“Chase was a great partner in community redevelopment,” Londoño said. “We were initially part of the Chase Foundation. After the merger with JP Morgan, we moved from strict, no quid pro quo, giving without asking anything in return, to strategic giving where we partnered with communities and individuals to train in financial literacy. 

“As one example, new immigrants often live in a cash society, so these people have no credit and few assets. We used Chase’s resources, an interest-free loan, to establish a community development credit union, where people could make very minimal deposits, which in turn, created assets and eventually wealth. My greatest accomplishment in Houston was that credit union, which still functions as the Promise Credit Union in an extremely diverse neighborhood. I thrive on creating sustainable solutions. My husband Juan was a tremendous help in establishing this project.”

 

A Perfect Fit

Assuming recruiters seek people who don’t have positions, she was surprised when she was contacted by the same group that had recruited her for the Houston Image Group. They said they were looking for someone who was interested in “enlightening, educating and empowering women around the world.” A vice president of global social responsibility was a term not often used, and it really peaked her curiosity.

She reflected, “I shared the idea of working for Tupperware, which at the time had over two million women in its sales force and operated in over 100 countries around the world, with my best friend and greatest advocate, my husband Juan, and he said, ‘That sounds like a job for you!’

“I interviewed in Houston and then came to Orlando and interviewed with the executive staff and Rick Goings (the chairman and CEO). I had previous experience with Tupperware. Juan’s daughter was able to support her own family, which included three young boys, as a Tupperware Colombia salesforce member while her husband transitioned from the job he had held to his own business. So I knew about the products since my kitchen was filled with them, and the value proposition,” she said.

It was a perfect fit. “Here I have met the most amazing, resilient and determined group of entrepreneurs in my life. The sales force represents the whole spectrum of cultures, religions, educations and economic backgrounds. When they find, as Rick says so often, ‘There are two people within us – the person we are and the person we could be,’ and that Tupperware is a solution for their needs and aspirations, they become the person they choose to be,” she shared.    

For Londoño that means leading projects, like the one Goings commissioned her to work with, facilitating a very diverse group of people in the U.S., Mexico and South Africa to replicate and adapt the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) model in these two countries. 

“We started with a core group of civic-minded entrepreneurs in Tijuana, Mexico who were desperate for a solution to the violence that drug trafficking had created in their neighborhoods. They reached out to BGCA, and under Rick’s leadership as then chairman of BGCA, created an organization that now has nine fantastic clubs throughout the Republic of Mexico and more on the way,” she explained

“Likewise, in Soweto – on the outskirts of Johannesburg – Tupperware Brands Southern Africa and The Tupperware Brands Corporation Foundation have created a multidisciplinary coalition of government (U.S. and South African), business and community leaders to advocate for this terrific after–school model,” she said. “We have two clubs, a third under construction and new prospects in the pipeline. Here we had to start from scratch…creating the vision of what ‘could be’ if kids had a safe place to be after school.

“In all my experience working for meaningful social change, this is definitely the most promising, rewarding and sustainable project I have ever been involved with.”