When Laila graduated from the University of Cairo with a degree in Architecture, she never thought she’d one day have her own firm. It wasn’t until she won her first design award, that she felt like maybe she would be able to do it on her own. It took her four years, the encouragement of her husband and the push of a friend to finally take the leap and set up Grid Architects, an architecture and interior design company. Two months after starting the business, the company won its first design award.
To take her company to the next level, Laila applied for financial help from EBRD, but her business was not eligible for the programme. Instead they recommended she apply for the Mentoring Women in Business Programme at the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women to work with a dedicated mentor.
The Foundation matched Laila with Hans, a Senior Manager at a multinational that provides services in strategy, consulting, digital, technology and operations from Germany. At the start of the mentoring year, Laila thought that she wanted to work on her marketing strategy. Talking to her mentor made her realise that she first needed to work on her business and financial plan in order to know how she wanted to market her business. After they wrote those plans, the pair also worked on getting her business more organised and setting up HR processes. Laila now has solid appraisal structures in place and is better at managing her team.
What Laila really needed from her mentor was someone to hold her accountable, and Hans did just that. He never gave her the answers when she did not know what to do, she explained, he just broadened her scope and encouraged her to work through challenges. It was helpful for her to talk to someone with an outside perspective.
One of Laila’s big objectives was to visit architecture exhibitions in Europe, but after she had her baby at the beginning of her mentoring year she kept postponing it. Hans encouraged her to go on the trip. Laila went and has been grateful ever since for everything she learned while in Europe.
Laila feels much more organised in her business now. She has been exposed to different types of business management and Hans has helped her to stick to her new business and financial plan during the mentor year. “I just needed that push to take my business further and to know I have someone to support me when it gets tough. The best part about my mentorship was not just the learning but the doing.” When she tells clients that she has been part of the Mentoring Women in Business Programme, they are impressed and know that she is taking her business seriously.
Laila is now trying to be a mentor to her team, who are all young women who have recently graduated. She shares her experience and lets them know that they can come to her with any issue they might have.
Even though Laila and Hans’ formal mentoring relationship has ended, the pair is still in regular contact. Hans said that her business has become a part of his life, so he would like to keep in contact to know what is happening.
Mentoring is the wake-up call that makes you understand and develop your business. The programme has made me realise the importance of having this guidance. It does not solve problems but surely gives you all the clues you need.