by Edward Lowe (Challenges Worldwide Volunteer)
Whilst volunteering with Challenges Worldwide in Zambia earlier this year, I was placed on a project with in-country volunteer Emmanuel, a recent graduate. Beyond being a great personality to be around, he had this strong hunger to learn and improve despite having little previous experience in business, particularly in a consultancy role.
Over the course of three months, we worked together to improve his communication skills, presentation abilities and technical capabilities. His rate of improvement was fast, and the company we were working with were so impressed as to offer him a role at the end of our placement. Being able to impart some of my knowledge and skills to him, and watch this improvement, was the most pleasing element of my entire placement.
This mentoring benefitted both of us hugely in terms of hard and soft skills improved. Emmanuel gained presentation, PowerPoint and Excel skills, whilst I improved my teaching skills through this process. Mentoring is something I had not had any experience with, and it tested my technical knowledge when passing this on to someone else. Emmanuel also offered a fresh perspective about how to tackle problems that I found enlightening. Coming from a different culture can have such a huge impact on your worldview.
Yet in the United Kingdom, there seems to be an adversity to seeking advice and mentoring from other businesses. Local to any business there are many individuals with decades of experience who can help new companies and their founders overcome the many problems across a range of functions such as finance, marketing and operations. It is hard for new firms to cover all of these areas.
Meanwhile, mentoring helps experienced professionals gather a new perspective from start-up businesses, and better helps them to see innovation in technology and strategy. It also gives a sense of wellbeing to pass on knowledge to the next generation, helping a local entrepreneur achieve his dreams by lending a supporting hand.
Large organisations can develop systemic programmes to ensure that mentoring support is provided in a sustainable away that leaves a lasting impact. For example, management consultancy Accenture’s ‘Skills to Succeed’ programme has had huge success in the mentoring field. By using its consultants’ skills to help others develop their coding, strategy and operational skills has developed and grown thousands of businesses. Over 1.2 million people have already been helped by the program since 2011.
The crucial difference between mentoring and other forms of help or aid for businesses is that it does not build a dependency. Instead, providing mentoring and developing skills gives the business themselves the opportunity to succeed, and therefore develops a sustainable impact. This is something which other forms of business aid, such as grants, have struggled to achieve.
By providing mentoring to young businesses, we can develop a more vibrant and competitive local economy, as well as internationally helping to spur on international development in a meaningful way. Experienced employees should consider working with us through Challenges Worldwide to see how you can help promising SMEs in developing nations. Alternatively, if seeking to be a mentor or receive advice locally in the UK, head to mentorsme.com. By all being involved in a business mentoring system, we can develop mutually beneficial relationships that help everyone fulfil their potential.