Cause to Celebrate: Our Mentees Graduate with Flying Colours!

Against the backdrop of a global economic crisis, the graduation of our cohort of mentees in June 2020 gave us cause to celebrate and look to the future. James, one of our Mentoring Programme Administrators, shares the inside track…

For our May 2019 mentee intake on the Mentoring Women in Business programme, last Monday was Graduation Day.

For the 150 pairs of business owners and business experts who’d worked together over the year, this was the culmination of a close professional partnership between mentee and mentor. Drawn from around the world, mentees and mentors have devoted two hours each month to relationship across continents. Over this time, mentees and mentors have built relationships, developed business plans, implemented change, monitored their progress and engaged in a constant discourse of evaluation. Our mentees have driven these relationships: setting agendas, directing areas of discussion and orchestrating their goals.

In our Relationship Support team we get to observe the progress of these relationships and offer assistance where needed. Relationships spanning continents require effort and we are continually impressed by the dedication and commitment mentees and mentors show to their relationships.

It’s so great to see relationships blossom throughout the year and on graduation we ask our participants to reflect on them. Freda, a mentee from Ghana, told us: “My mentor and I gelled very well. We shared personal and business stories and became very close. She essentially became the big sister that I looked forward to catching up with.”

These close connections leave our participants with tangible skills to show — and apply — when they graduate. Of our 150 graduating mentees, 98% told us they developed skills in strategy, 85% in management, 84% in marketing, 72% in product development and 63% in sales, with which we’re delighted.

This cohort of graduates leave the programme better equipped to strengthen their businesses, as well as impact the communities around them. Ifeoma, a mentee from Nigeria said: “This is one of the best investments I could make for myself and my business. Because of the program I am a better skilled entrepreneur and my business has improved its capacity to better enrich the lives of other women in our value chain.”

The benefits of the programme aren’t only felt by our mentees; mentors also tell us about the lasting impact their relationships have on them. Sunay, a mentor from Canada told us: “The opportunity to help women entrepreneurs from emerging economies around the globe to be successful is a humbling experience. Their motivation to succeed is inspiring.”

84% of our May 2019 graduating mentors feel they are graduating having learned new skills in their relationship, with 79% reporting a newfound awareness of the challenges faced by women in low and middle income countries.

For the Relationship Support team, this graduation feels a little more special than normal. As we all know, the whole world has felt the effects of COVID-19. Almost every country has imposed restrictions affecting the way people live and work. For many of our mentees, business operations have changed completely: some forced to temporarily close, others to alter their strategies to reflect new consumer realities. For our mentors, changing routines and ways of working have also affected their schedules and time to spare.

For our mentees and mentors this meant the goalposts had totally shifted for the final quarter of their relationship.

Marina Bañuelos makes handicrafts from pine leaves. She gathers the pine leaves, cooks them and weaves to create any type of vases, lamps, napkin holders and bracelets in Ejido Emiliano Zapata, Jalisco.

Amidst this instability, however, our mentees have been resilient and proactive in their responses, with new business plans being drawn up and schedules followed. Mentees have evaluated business plans, made tough decisions, researched the changed consumer landscape, and shifted focus to online operations. Some mentees have adapted and filled a vital service in their local economies, such as Mary from Kenya. Running a business in the fashion industry, Mary told us she adapted to the rapidly emerging situation and manufactured face masks, which she is selling locally and exporting.

Elsewhere, mentees and mentors have volunteered time to lead a series of weekly webinars to the wider programme community. These sessions centred on adaptation strategies such as amending business plans and diversifying income streams. The spirit of co-operation and solidarity amongst the May 2019 women entrepreneurs has been enduring.

Many of our mentees and mentors have told us of the importance of their mentoring relationship to help them through this tumultuous time. Sun Yen Leow, a mentor from Hong Kong, said: “Our fortnightly calls became one of the fixtures in my calendar that I looked forward to even more. It offered some cure for the growing isolation, and more importantly, it showed me the power of empathy”.

As our November 2019 intake continue to adapt and work through their relationships, and the new May 2020 intake begin their time on the programme, the achievements of our 300 successful May 2019 graduates is a reminder of the strength of co-operation amongst women entrepreneurs from around the world.