Happy International Mentoring Day!

Celebrating the impact of our Mentoring Women in Business programme.

This International Mentoring Day (17 Jan), our Programme Officer James Mitchell reflects on the huge potential our Mentoring Women in Business programme holds for mentees, mentors, and our corporate partners.

Last November, as part of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women’s Women Entrepreneurs Mean Business summit, we held a panel session called “Cross Border Mentoring to Level the Playing Field”. Together, a range of fantastic speakers explored how virtual mentoring can help break down barriers for women entrepreneurs so they can achieve their goals.

As a member of the team running the Foundation’s Mentoring Women in Business programme, I can certainly attest to the theme of this panel discussion. Since its beginnings in 2011, the programme has supported over 5,000 women entrepreneurs in low and middle income countries to grow and strengthen their businesses, and build their skills, confidence and knowledge, with enormous impact on mentees and mentors alike. The programme also holds amazing benefits for our partners, including Marsh McLennan, PayPal and the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, all of whom were represented at this panel discussion.

The hour-long session was moderated by our Mentoring Programme Manager, Efe Olokpa. Efe was joined by Van Dang, Founder and CEO at Savvycom, and Cherie Blair Foundation for Women alumna mentee and mentor; Zara Jeffery, Global Director, Social Impact Partnerships and Programmes at Marsh McLennan, and current mentor; Justin Kwan, Program Manager, APEC-Canada Growing Business Partnership at Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada; and Kenrick Fraser, Global Employee Volunteerism and Engagement Lead, Social Innovation at PayPal.

Efe started the session by commenting on how mentoring can speak to the lived experiences of women entrepreneurs in light of COVID-19: “Online mentoring across borders creates a stable and safe place women entrepreneurs to go during this time of unprecedented change. The Mentoring Women in Business Programme has been running for ten years with nearly 10,000 participants across more than 100 countries boosting and building women’s businesses. The programme has been a powerful tool to address some of the challenges women entrepreneurs face whilst starting, running and growing their businesses.”

For alumna mentee Van, the programme gave her vital support: “My mentor pushed me out of my comfort zone, reinforced my confidence and my trust and helped me to set goals for my business.” This was much needed in the face of gender stereotypes that Van has faced: “Very few people in Vietnam expect a woman to run a business and succeed. I have been running my company for 12 years, and many people still think I am acting under my husband or somebody else.”

Agreeing with Efe, Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada’s Justin said: “COVID-19 has changed how business is conducted. In order to achieve inclusive economic growth, economies need to work for everyone. The Mentoring Women in Business Programme is the tangible connection between research that we have done at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and on-the-ground success. The Programme has been a support network during COVID-19. For example, a mentee in Indonesia informed us recently that the programme gave her resilience to pivot towards making PPE during the pandemic. These networks and relationships formed by mentees and mentors also continued beyond the programme.”

The Mentoring Programme is also highly valuable to mentors, not just mentees. Marsh McLennan’s Zara explained: “At Marsh McLennan we have had over 400 mentors over 9 years and 100% agreed that they had gained leadership skills, communication skills and business skills.  Mentors are learning about empathy, patience, listening skills, flexibility and adaptability. I have personally learned so much from my mentee; her passion and humour are amazing and I look forward to speaking to her every week.”

PayPal’s Kenrick added that the programme also benefits our mentor-nominating corporate partners: “Our mentors are passionate about the programme, which has enhanced employee wellness. It empowers them to leverage their skills for good. Mentors have developed leadership skills like managing for the future, inclusion, and employing a whole company approach. These learnings they then bring back to PayPal and apply to their day jobs. COVID-19 has made it difficult to ensure employees are engaged, and this programme helps us do that. This is how we are able to connect employees to our vision of democratising financial services and empowering an equitable and inclusive global economy.  The programme helps PayPal build culture and community through social impact.”

It was fascinating to gain such diverse perspectives on the efficacy of the programme. For me, the reciprocal benefits of mentoring on mentee and mentor were affirming to hear, and we’re very lucky that it’s something that we get to hear a lot on the programme. Mentoring is an incredible opportunity and, this International Mentoring Day, something we at the Foundation encourage everyone – particularly women entrepreneurs and those who support them – to take up!