Meaningful Mentorships Help Attract and Retain Expat Talent

How a St. Louis organization eases the transition for corporate expatriate families and promotes regional economic growth.

Many companies transfer expatriate employees to the U.S. to deliver on their global expansion strategies. Moving the right employees can help companies with business stability, expertise, and continuity, and prevent possible talent shortages.

To effect a transition, companies must offer an expatriate package that includes an array of costly benefits, allowances, and perquisites in addition to the annual base salary. Unfortunately, according to the Harvard Business Review, approximately 40 percent of expatriate assignments fail. Why? Studies indicate one key reason is the inability of a partner or family to acclimate to the new environment.

The Solution

In St. Louis, an initiative called the International Mentoring Program eases the transition for expatriate families by matching foreign-born women who have moved to the region—whether with their partners or for their own employment or academic reasons—with like-minded local women to share experiences and learn from each other.

Local mentors make St. Louis feel like home to their international mentees by guiding them as they overcome obstacles and explore professional, personal, and social opportunities in a new culture and community. At the same time, both mentor and mentee increase awareness and knowledge of other cultures, expand their global networks, enjoy shared St. Louis experiences, and form lasting friendships. In addition to the personalized one-to-one pairings, the program offers group, networking, cultural and social activities, and events.

Co-founded in 2017 by St. Louisan Annie Schlafly and Brazilian Susan Gobbo, co-founder and program lead of the St. Louis International Spouses/Expat Group, the program began as a six-month pilot initiative with 10 women—five international mentees and five local mentors. Its goal was to serve as a solution to help area corporations and organizations attract and retain a diverse spectrum of talent to the St. Louis region.

In 2022, the International Mentoring Program became a 501(c)(3) organization and now has the support of multiple community and corporate partners, including initial sponsors the World Trade Center St. Louis and the St. Louis Mosaic Project, a regional initiative launched in 2012 in response to an economic impact report outlining St. Louis’s lagging immigrant growth.


Today this one-of-a-kind program has become a vital resource for recruiting and retaining top international talent. It has connected more than 600 local and international women representing 67 countries around the world. They work in diverse fields, representing nearly 300 area companies and organizations.

The International Mentoring Program is successfully integrating and keeping more international families in St. Louis; improving economic growth; increasing cultural awareness; and enriching the region with a more inclusive, vibrant and diverse community. Thanks to its efforts, St. Louis is becoming more attractive worldwide as participants become ambassadors and proudly tout their positive experience.

But perhaps the best results can be gleaned from the multitude of testimonials written by the mentor/mentee pairs whose lives have been positively changed through their meaningful mentorship connections, and by the corporate partners whose employees have participated in the program. Here’s just one:

“Being a part of the International Mentoring Program has been a life changing event,” says local mentor Liz DeBold Austin. “As a mentor, the impact was actually made on me! My world has opened up so much by meeting the amazing mentees and mentors that are a part of this program. I am inspired every day by their intelligence, creativity, bravery, friendship and love. I am so blessed to be but a small part of this amazing community.”