Developing mentoring ecosystems
Drawing insights from the Kigali entrepreneurial ecosystem
How can we increase the availability of quality mentors?, is a question we frequently get asked at Mowgli Mentoring. Mentoring programmes generally involve more seasoned entrepreneurs and corporate leaders supporting less experienced start-ups through the growth phases of their businesses. A strong culture of nurturing and supporting entrepreneurs through mentoring is often the sign of a more mature and collaborative entrepreneurial ecosystem, so nurturing the intergenerational flow of knowledge and connections that mentoring enables is critical to any ecosystem.
Mowgli Mentoring worked with GIZ and the Make IT programme in Rwanda to explore some of these issues, and see how a cross-ecosystem mentoring programme could help collaboration as well as build a mentoring culture. At present, many services in Kigali focus on early stage start-ups with less emphasis on those at further developed growth stages. As these entrepreneurs mature and their businesses grow, mentoring will be pivotal in supporting their success. At this point, ensuring that there is an understanding of what quality mentoring is, and the availability of a pipeline of quality equipped mentors, is vital.
What can be observed in new entrepreneurial ecosystems, such as in Kigali, is that the lack of a clear understanding and consensus of what mentoring is, exposes the term to multiple interpretations. There is often little clarity about what defines and differentiates mentoring from similar interventions. The result is that mentoring is sometimes used as a catch-all term for a whole range of individual support to entrepreneurs, which might be better termed coaching, advising, technical assistance, teaching, or consulting. The reality is that good mentors focus on the entrepreneurs as a whole, not just their business.
“Mentoring is quite specific — the focus is on personal growth and development of the entrepreneur themselves first, and then the business behind them. Those who have experienced it and done well, talk about the power of mentoring and describe it as a turning point both for themselves and for their businesses.”
Are existing mentoring initiatives truly addressing the needs of the entrepreneurs they support?
The report Evaluating the Potential of a Mentoring Programme for Tech Entrepreneurs in Rwanda produced by Mowgli Mentoring, and commissioned by the GIZ Tech Entrepreneurship Initiative “Make-IT in Africa” draws conclusions on how Entrepreneur Support Organizations (ESOs) can build up their local mentoring capacity to truly support entrepreneurs across all stages.
Though focused on Kigali - Rwanda, having predominantly worked within emerging ecosystems, we notice the following trends that are replicated across many of the countries we’ve worked in, within the Middle East, North and sub-Saharan Africa region.
1. Understanding of the value of mentoring. Mentoring can be hard to explain, as it is quite experiential; those who really understand its value, and are advocates for quality mentoring, are only those who have experienced it. Therefore, the only way really to increase the understanding of mentoring is to invest in quality supported mentoring programmes, to build buy-in experience and support, for those who see its value to then go on and support others. While the entrepreneurs we spoke to acknowledge the value of mentoring, there was a feeling that there needs to be clarity from the ESOs on its benefits.
2. There is inadequate availability of experienced mentors. While there are highly-skilled entrepreneurs within the ecosystem who have the potential to be quality mentors, they need support from formal programmes which also offer training and strong coordination, to support them in their initial mentoring journey. At present these people are unlikely to mentor organically. One mentee described attending a conference where a leader spoke about the importance and value of mentoring, but when asked whether she would mentor the entrepreneur, she responded that she had no time. This creates an opportunity for ESOs to tap into their networks and develop formal programmes with clear structures and support.
3. Peer mentoring is needed. Entrepreneurs also need mentoring skills to mentor one another at their level. Sometimes this is needed because entrepreneurs relate to one another as they are on similar journeys. A key component of mentoring is active listening and powerful questioning. With a little bit of support, these skills can be easily developed to better support quality peer mentoring.
4. Online platforms could help facilitate mentoring. An entrepreneur suggested use of an online platform to facilitate their mentoring relationships in a way that mentors and entrepreneurs could be communicating and keeping each other accountable. This also speaks to their need for a structure, yet flexibility around how mentors and mentees interact and communicate with one another.
5. Mentoring is sector specific. Entrepreneurs generally felt it was more relevant to be matched or paired with mentors who are in the same industry as them. In Mowgli’s experience, however, the mentor should be a business professional and generalist, and being part of a complementary sector could provide valuable insights. In a small ecosystem, being in the same industry could mean they are competitors, compromising the impartiality of the relationship.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach with mentoring programmes, there needs to be investment in the mentor and mentee preparation, programme support and structure. It’s also important for the ecosystem to have a shared understanding on what mentoring really is in order to implement impactful mentoring programmes that support the entrepreneur as a whole, putting his personal and professional development into consideration.
This report shares lessons that ESOs could easily pick up and incorporate as they work towards implementing and improving their own programmes. If you would like to develop a pipeline of mentors or discuss how Mowgli Mentoring can help develop a mentoring programme for your organization, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about our findings and recommendations for how mentoring could be embedded within the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Kigali and beyond, download the full report here.