Overcoming exceptional challenges: Our November 2020 mentees celebrate graduating in a year like no other

On Women’s Entrepreneurship Day 2020, James, one of our Mentoring Programme Administrators, celebrates the achievement of mentors and mentees who graduated from our Mentoring Women in Business programme earlier this month.

Last week the Mentoring Women in Business Team celebrated one of the most rewarding days of the year: graduation day. This was the culmination of twelve months of dedication to creating strong professional mentoring relationships. For our 490 successful mentees and mentors who graduate with skills, perspective and close connections, it is an opportunity to reflect and be proud of all they have achieved this year.

My mentor supported and guided me… [she] helped me create a vision for my business, a strategy, to plan, implement, market, budget, and start thinking bigger… This is an exceptional mentoring programme and I have been blessed to part of it, in particular during a year as challenging as the world has seen.

Lynne, a mentee and entrepreneur from South Africa

The Mentoring Programme carefully matches Women Entrepreneurs in low and middle income countries with business professionals from around the world to create transformative mentoring experiences for all involved. We select, match and support all participants to help them grow personal and professional skills through strong developmental connections..

Upon matching, the November 2019 intake agreed to bring enthusiasm and diligence to their relationships. As always, our mentees owned the responsibility of driving their relationships, for scheduling monthly two-hour meetings with their mentors and for dictating discussion subjects Likewise, our mentors agreed to be committed, responsive, and to act as sounding-boards and thought-partners to their mentees. As all pairs set to work they built the strong connections and enthusiasm necessary to face a year of unprecedented and unpredictable challenges.

Four months in, the entire intake was met with the challenge of COVID-19. The pandemic left mentees and mentors with priorities reshaped, plans disrupted, and schedules disjointed. To move forward, participants required resilience, resourcefulness and an ability to adapt. Mentoring had suddenly become both more challenging and more vital than ever.

As the global crisis unfolded, the Mentoring Team adapted to step up the support we could give. The responses given to us by mentees and mentors in a survey on effects of the pandemic shaped the support we offered.

We transformed our monthly webinar schedule into a weekly series around adaptation, and amending plans. We used our experience in mentoring to produce advice on how to adapt mentoring sessions, and how to shape relationships to respond to the crisis. We produced dedicated courses on Business Resilience and Marketing, available for all mentoring participants and alumni.

These efforts would have proven inconsequential if not for the keenness and commitment of our mentees and mentors to attend, participate and develop. Programme alumni led our webinars, and we developed mentoring advice based on the feedback given to us by successful mentees and mentors. The engagement of our November 2019 intake, and their openness to adapt and develop was truly striking.

This unwavering dedication to their year-long mentoring relationships has paid dividends to our graduating mentees. They emerge from the programme endowed with skills that will be crucial in their entrepreneurial journey. 95% told us they built skills in strategy, 92% in marketing, 81% in product development, 72% in sales and 68% in finance.

Our mentees were also able to uncover personal qualities within themselves. 97% of mentees reported that the experience increased their confidence levels, 96% said they had become more innovative, and 94% saw their ability to make key decisions increase.

Echoing these figures, Joyce, a mentee from the Philippines said “[My mentor] and I were able to create a safe space that fostered growth through genuine and objective feedback. Our mentoring relationship resulted in my improved confidence, mindset, and skills as an entrepreneur.”

Our mentors graduate with skills and knowledge, too. 86% of all mentors indicated that they gained cultural knowledge from the experience, and 68% learned about doing business in a new culture. Abhijit, a mentor from India said: “This experience enriched my asset collection of knowing wonderful people across new cultures and ways of doing business. I am privileged to be associated with the cause and spirit of empowering women in enterprise.”

This sense of perspective and increased knowledge has led our mentors to a greater awareness of the challenges faced by women around the world, and has strengthened their commitment to women’s empowerment.

Take Antoinette, a mentor from the UK, who said “I am truly privileged to have been a small part of my mentee’s incredible journey as a social entrepreneur and she has inspired me as a woman and an entrepreneur myself. It is women like her are truly changing the world for the better.”

Overall 98% of our mentors felt that they had been enriched with new skills from the programme. An incredible 99% would recommend the programme to others, and 78% were so enthused that they told us they wanted to volunteer for another year of mentoring.

Ultimately, the November 2019 intake graduate with an awareness of the incredible capacity for women entrepreneurs to overcome exceptional challenges. The Mentoring Team thanks and congratulates them for their incredible tenacity and dedication over this past year. The programme relies on the continued commitment of mentors and mentees, as well as the work of our local nominating partners and the invaluable support of our corporate partners. If you are interested in contributing in some way to the work we do, find out how you can do so here.