Posted: March 29, 2006
Since joining Microsoft in 2005, Analisa Balares '99 has been introducing the world to MSN Spaces, the company's new blogging product. One component of her duties as global consumer marketing manager is executing the product's U.S. marketing strategy. That translates, in part, to hanging out at the Sundance Film Festival, hitting the dance floor at movie premieres in Los Angeles, and rubbing shoulders with Jay-Z and Beyoncé at post-Grammy parties in New York. Though the job perks are memorable, what really excites Analisa is discussing the product's potential for empowering people.
"Blogging is about user-generated content. So, it's really about giving voice to people who traditionally don't have an outlet for expressing themselves," she explained. "MSN Spaces is the fastest-growing blogging product in China. Independent artists are also using it worldwide to market themselves. Everyone has a way to speak out--that's what's so cool."
A glance at Balares's résumé readily demonstrates that empowering others is, in fact, her passion. While at Mount Holyoke, she and other members of the Debating Society helped to successfully advocate for and develop leadership programs offering speaking and arguing skills. These days, the Speaking, Arguing, and Writing (SAW) Program--part of the Weissman Center for Leadership and the Liberal Arts--is integral to the Mount Holyoke experience. SAW coordinates writing- and speaking-intensive courses, offers mentoring, and sponsors workshops and special events--all designed to give students opportunities to practice goal-oriented communication.
After graduation, while helping raise more than $1.5 billion in capital as an analyst in the prestigious High Technology Investment Banking Group of Goldman Sachs, Balares cofounded the mentoring program now known as the Lyons Network, an affiliate group of the MHC Alumnae Association. At Harvard Business School--from which she graduated in June 2005--Balares cofounded the Global Entrepreneurship Network Worldwide, an international nonprofit that aims to unleash the power of entrepreneurship in the world's least developed economies.
"I think, by nature, I build," she reflected. "I build initiatives that enable other people to do more. It's how I make positive contributions to the world." Word is spreading even further about those contributions through a newly published book titled More Than 85 Broads: Women Making Career Choices, Taking Risks, and Defining Success--On Their Own Terms (McGraw-Hill). Written by Janet Hanson, CEO of Milestone Capital Management, it features a chapter on Balares and her efforts to help others reach for their dreams.
As for why she invests so much of herself into doing that, Balares says that the honest answer--the same one she gave her interviewer at Harvard Business School--is love. She grew up in the Philippines, raised by parents who impressed upon her the necessity of working hard for what you want in life. Her parents, neither of whom had finished high school, also modeled a deep appreciation for education. "The story of my parents is the story of love," she said. "My father quit school after fifth grade to work on the family farm to help support his single mother. My mother quit high school to work as a domestic in the city to help support a sibling's education. They both sacrificed so much for their own families."
Balares believes that she, too, is called to share her resources. "It's something we must do as a culture--it already occurs a lot at Mount Holyoke. For example, the Lyons Network was founded precisely so that alumnae like myself would have a forum for helping students enhance their opportunities."
Balares's commitment to the Lyons Network's mission was joyfully evident throughout the organization's February 2006 conference on leadership and careers. Despite a travel schedule that afforded only a couple of hours before the event, she spent the day eagerly getting to know students, listening to their concerns, and seeking out their résumés. Both in casual conversations and during her workshops on marketing strategies and Harvard's M.B.A. program, Balares distributed her email address and urged students to "be in touch. Put me on your buddy list so you'll know when I'm online."
That openness, she said, is "partly selfish. Interacting with students gives me so much energy. It's amazing to work with women who have such possibilities." And while she sees herself as a resource for all young women, she does admit to a particular affection for the students at her alma mater: "Mount Holyoke women have such a genuineness about them."
Balares also remains deeply devoted to the college that supported her own leadership aspirations--and offered her a life-changing scholarship. "There's a soul to Mount Holyoke. The reason I keep coming is because Mount Holyoke has preserved its soul. It hasn't lost sight of its compass or its spirit. That keeps me and so many other alumnae coming back again and again."