Freda, an entrepreneur and mentee from Ghana, and her mentor Laura, a Global Engagement Leader from the USA, worked together on the Mentoring Women in Business Programme, in collaboration with Marsh & McLennan Companies, between November 2019 and November 2020. Following the conclusion of the programme, we caught up with them to find out about their experience.
As a mother of two, primary income provider for her family, and the Chubb Global Engagement Leader in the Insurer Consulting Group at Marsh & McLennan Companies (MMC), Laura Economos is aware first-hand of some of the challenges women face in business. So, when Laura discovered that MMC was requesting volunteer mentors to take part in the Mentoring Women in Business Programme, she was keen to channel her energy into this new experience.
Laura joined the programme in May 2019, and she was matched with Freda, a woman entrepreneur from Ghana. Freda’s enthusiasm for the programme immediately struck Laura: “I could see right away that Freda was an incredible go-getter, she was turning her passion into a business and was very committed.”
Freda’s business, Kaeme, specialises in premium shea butter, black soap, toiletry bags and soy candles; and sources the raw materials from women’s co-operatives in Ghana. As Freda puts it: “At Kaeme, we believe in supporting the local community and creating impact.”
In their training, all mentors on the programme are asked to build a personal connection with their mentees as the foundation of their mentoring journey. Freda recalled: “In first meeting […] we talked and talked and talked, mostly about expectations and what mentoring meant for each of us. What this first meeting did, other than confirm the pairing was perfect, was that it established a very strong base of trust which for me was everything!”
From this brilliant start the tone was set and Freda scheduled hourly meetings with Laura bi-weekly. Laura said: “Freda came to me to discuss personal and business challenges; how she was managing resources.”
Freda agreed: “Laura was more than a mentor in our meetings; we talked about everything: personal life, work, managing employees, writing proposals, business growth and expansion; we cracked jokes, we talked about politics and family holidays, everything was game!”
Six months into their mentoring relationship, Freda went on maternity leave with her first child. Instead of leading to a gap in communication between the pair, this became another opportunity for bonding. Freda said: “Laura’s experience of motherhood solidified our mentoring relationship; she has been through everything I was going through. Her support was priceless.”
For Laura it was about sharing her own experiences for Freda’s benefit: “When I first got pregnant I was firing on all cylinders; what I learned from that was the importance of taking some time for yourself. I told Freda that self-care is the most overlooked part of becoming a new mother.”
As the year passed, sharing concerns and ideas about both Freda’s professional and personal life led to remarkable results for her: “I gained new leadership insights, expanded my network and I’m in the process of entering new markets all because of the mentoring programme. I even ended up having an interview with CNN International!”
As COVID-19 hit Ghana, Freda had to be resilient to adapt but was able to continue paying all employees while they adapted their roles.
All these lasting skills and achievements were underscored by a growth in Freda’s self-belief, as she highlights: “Laura’s support and her availability to listen allowed me to gain confidence in the decisions I made.”
Laura comes away from this experience with a new set of skills and an affirmation of the power of women entrepreneurs. “This opportunity supported my listening skills, it gave me awareness of cultural differences and how they can improve perspective.”
These outcomes would not have been possible had Laura not participated as a mentor through Marsh and McLennan Companies. “While working with MMC, I have had the opportunity to mentor several women and I was able to call upon my experiences of that for Freda. MMC has always been the wind in my sails throughout my career.”
Though Freda and Laura’s Mentoring relationship has ended, the effects remain invaluable, and they remain close. Freda reflects: “Laura became the big sister that I looked forward to catching up with; what worked was that Laura had a wealth of experience she was open to sharing.”
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