10 things that I have learnt about mentoring Anzisha fellows

Louise1_125.jpgProcurement and supply chain professionals have such a broad range of skills and cross-functional business knowledge that it makes us all ideal mentors. Mentors share their professional knowledge/experiences and act as positive role models to mentees in need of some direction.

This is especially true when engaging with suppliers and mentoring young entrepreneurs partaking in enterprise supplier development (ESD) programmes. Small South African businesses are in desperate need of help…it will take some time and commitment, but the results are extremely rewarding.

Louise Paulsen, Consultant, Advisor, Director and Mentor in localisation and enterprise development shares what she has learnt while mentoring Anzisha Prize fellows remotely. The Anzisha Program is a partnership between the African Leadership Academy and the Mastercard Foundation; it seeks to increase the number of entrepreneurs generating jobs in Africa.

1. Mentoring is a deeply personal experience
There is no prescriptive way on how to mentor people, even when it is done face-to-face. Mentoring remotely is exactly the same…what works for one person may not work for another. Some of my Anzisha fellows preferred WhatsApp, some preferred calls or Skype but almost none of them responded to emails. I believe that they are all too busy running their businesses to respond to each and every email received. Also, different bonds are formed: some fellows share much of their day-to-day activities while others will only have very direct conversations about their business. It is apparent that those who come from societies in transition or situations where there is no appropriate parental guidance are far more reliant on the mentorship arrangement.

2. Leverage every piece of technology: this is critical!
In my experience, I have learnt that you cannot replace the richness of face-to-face mentoring sessions. In the absence of the ability to do so all the time, video calls allow you to leverage roughly 80% of face-to-face type mentoring. Through video you can see body language, check responses and clearly observe if someone understands what you are saying or if they require further explanation. Scheduling video calls is important, especially for agri-preneurs who may often not be at a spot that is convenient or has the best network for even just a voice call.

3. Keep other Anzisha staff close
It is important to have a close support group amongst colleagues who also deal with young entrepreneurs. Between myself and two other colleagues, we are able to keep each other up to date with fellow activities.

Louise2_125.jpg4. Encourage fellows to engage with each other
There is a lot of collective knowledge between fellows and synergies amongst their respective businesses. For example, three of the Anzisha fellows are all looking into technology platforms to bring together emerging farmers to scale their products that are being sold to markets. The fellows are located in different parts of Africa: one in Southern Africa, another in East Africa and the other in West Africa. Their ability to share, collaborate and develop together, even if they decide to not work together, is important for building close relationships that they can leverage off of and share collectively.

5. Send notes between scheduled calls and meetings
Sometimes you may find that a fellow is struggling and does not want to or cannot reach out for assistance or support. Asking for help can be very daunting for some. So, just by sending a short note to say “hi” can result in a response that leads to the discovery of some work area that requires assistance or perhaps an introduction that needs to be made. One of the mentored fellows was involved in an accident but this was discovered coincidentally. While the person was fine, they were very pleased that there was someone who just reached out to say “hi”, even if it was purely by chance.

6. Use social media as a tool
I remain in contact with my mentored fellows even after we are no longer engaged in a mentor-mentee relationship. The best way to remain in contact is via social media. LinkedIn has been especially helpful to see how mentees are progressing. One of my very first fellows is attending Oxford in the new academic year and has used Anzisha as a springboard to access many opportunities. She has also been featured in magazines and given talks on motivational platforms. It is not always possible for us to speak as often as we used to, but I can still see how well she is doing in life and be happy that I had a part to play in her journey. Occasionally she still reaches out through calls or WhatsApp when she needs input.

7. Establish a mentoring team
There are going to be times when you cannot assist your mentee or areas are outside of your core skill set. For this reason, it is important to have a group of people in a team that support each other. Additionally, it may be necessary to call on people within your network to support your mentee – this is important in terms of the quality of support being given to the mentee.

8. Set boundaries
Because the nature of the engagement is mostly electronic, it means that mentees can reach out to you whenever they feel like it. This is not healthy for either of you. I have told my fellows that I am available to them any time between 08:00 and 18:00 SAST (you have to stipulate the time zone because the team is dealing with many fellows from different time zones). Most fellows are really good at sticking to this boundary, but there is always one fellow who manages to slip through and this is where self-control is needed not to answer to every beck and call. This boundary setting is a two-way street and requires work from both parties. Boundaries do not just relate to time, you will also get asked all manner of things from fellows (it is the folly of youth), thus they need to understand that certain things and behaviours are inappropriate.

9. Money is always tight for entrepreneurs
Generally speaking, entrepreneurs struggle with money. For very young entrepreneurs, their budgets are even tighter. So, if you are planning a face-to-face meeting, be prepared to pick up the bill and to drive to them because things like fuel and airtime are not to be wasted. Sometimes you will get strange requests, for example, data for wi-fi or, in extreme cases, help with a sim card because Internet and mobile phone connectivity has been blocked in economies in transition.

10. Self-care is critical
This is true for you as the mentor but also applicable to mentees. There have been several incidences of mental illness during my time working with Anzisha. Most of the fellows operate in societies where mental health care is neither prioritised nor well serviced. It is important to assist fellows to understand that they cannot effectively run their businesses if they are not taking care of themselves appropriately.

Hopefully my experiences during the last six months with a cohort of approximately 20 fellows to mentor have been useful to you. You never know when the opportunity to mentor presents itself.

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