Evidence and Tools for the Effective Mentoring of MSMEs : Sharing our experience

Youth Business International (YBI) is committed to sharing our learning to help improve the practice of ways to help and empower young entrepreneurs.

Our Director of Membership Services and Engagement, Jo Gray, shares our experience on over a decade of running mentoring programmes. This builds on the recent report commissioned by Argidius Foundation, our lead funding partner for YBI’s High Flyers  Youth Entrepreneurship Programme. 

For more than a decade Youth Business International (YBI) and its members have been using mentoring as a tool for driving effective support for young entrepreneurs. Over that time, we have supported over 40 YBI members to design and launch their own mentoring programmes.

Many of these are now hugely successful in providing ongoing support and development of young entrepreneurs and their businesses. We have continually learnt, developed and evolved our offer so that mentoring programmes across the network are able to benefit from this journey to evolve good practice on running an effective mentoring programme. We are thrilled to see Argidius Foundation invest and commission this work to help broaden the knowledge base of good practice and to see such a great summary of the essentials of designing and running an effective mentoring programme.

We recognise and validate much of what is shared here, especially –

  1. The emphasis and focus on the need to effectively build, operate, and support a mentoring programme. Through our own work and the extensive experience of our team of experts and members, we know that it all starts with great design work. Far too often we’ve seen programmes that have only been focused on putting two people together and telling them to mentor. We design with our values in mind.
    • Quality: we work with a tried and tested consistent approach based on our ten-step mentoring model.
    • Collaboration: we work with local need, expertise and tailor our approach accordingly.
    • Tenacity: we stay with the member for 12 months engaging at the start and, continuing with remote calls and finally a second visit prior to the member building a sustainable plan for the future.
  1. Exploring the difference between mentoring, coaching, and advising. In our experience, everyone has a different definition of these practices, so it is important to get clear on this and work with current understandings. However, we also know that the crossover is huge and it’s about making sure your participants and stakeholders are clear about what is expected of them all.
  2. Different modalities. It is great to see the different routes to mentoring laid out in the report. We have certainly seen many of these variations take place around our network. But we agree – one to one really offers the most value and sometimes, if you call everything mentoring, you can confuse the issue and devalue a one to one mentoring programme.
  3. The six-step design process – reflects much of our own 10 step process. A few reflections and call outs here are:
    • Recruitment – your mentors are your best advocates and recruiters – ensure you recognise and invest in them
    • Matching – is definitely an art, not a science, and if on those odd occasions you get it wrong, it is ok to start again
    • Training – ensure you make it memorable and inspiring; focus on attitude, skills and knowledge; and give people the opportunity to practice the skills they can use as a mentor.

What we know from our own research and from our members around the world is that there are other key areas of importance when designing and running a mentoring programme:

  • Training of mentees, as well as mentors – both within the YBI network and through our team’s broader expertise in the world of mentoring, we know that only preparing and training mentors is not enough. Mentees must also be given the space to learn what is expected, how the relationship will work and how to get the most out of the relationship. Clearly managed expectations from the start delivers huge value later.
  • The importance of an excellent Mentoring Programme Manager – we simply cannot over-emphasise the value of having a brilliant Mentoring Programme Manager, who is also supported from the top i.e. by the CEO, Director or Board. Every programme that we have ever seen fail generally does so from the loss of the Programme Manager. The Programme Manager is the life blood of any programme and these are the reasons why:
    1. Advocates and ambassadors for mentoring – they are familiar with the business case for mentoring and are expert at explaining this to a variety of stakeholders
    2. Marketers for the programme – they drive the recruitment of participants onto the programme and use their network to connect with as broad and diverse a group of people as possible
    3. Essential for matching – the matching of mentoring pairs is arguably one of the most challenging elements of the programme set up and they go the extra mile to ensure the best possible fit
    4. Mentor skills – for a mentoring programme to be truly sustainable it cannot rely on external support for all things. Great Programme Managers ensure they up-skill themselves as mentors and take up opportunities to practice
    5. Finger on the pulse – the Mentoring Programme Managers are connected to their participants – knowing that they need to have a sense of what’s working and what isn’t, who needs help, what are the early success stories that are emerging?
    6. A genuine belief in the power and impact of mentoring – they generally have a passion for mentoring and for helping people to get the most from relationships.
  • The recognition, recognition and further recognition of mentors – the YBI network approach to mentoring requires all mentors to be volunteers. Over the years as we’ve explained this approach to members around the globe, the first reaction is disbelief that anyone with the experience required would be willing to volunteer their time to act as a mentor. Yet they do. It has been a pleasure to watch our members faces turn from disbelief to joy as their mentor numbers grow and their programmes flourish. However, to do this requires effort and the constant engagement and support of mentors. Our mantra is always “recognition, recognition, recognition”. How will you show your mentors that you value them?
  • The value of programme evaluation – this can be a challenge; how do you measure the impact of a relationship? As our friend and colleague Professor Bob Garvey often says “Does friendship work? How do you know it does?” As we all know, it just does. But we also know that tracking and sharing impact allows us all to demonstrate the critical value of mentoring. So, ensuring you have a robust way to measure impact, both quantitively and qualitatively is essential.

For example, YBI conducted a 2-year longitudinal study in 2017 which found that –

“nearly three-quarters (74%) of young entrepreneurs were more confident in running their business and 72% felt they had stronger decision-making skills through the support of their mentors. Personal levels of confidence also grew during the programme, by the end 71% of entrepreneurs felt they had learned significantly more about their personal strengths and development areas.”

YBI’s member in Spain, Youth Business Spain, also conducted research in partnership with PwC . A key finding was:

“The businesses that have taken part in the mentoring programme have more than doubled the probability of continuing in business compared with the average for the Spanish economy in general, with a business survival rate of 87% in the fifth year against a national average of 41%.”

The Covid 19 pandemic has thrown another important light on mentoring. We have certainly seen that mentoring has never been more essential to young people our members are supporting. At a time when critical decisions need to be made alongside moments of huge emotional distress, having a mentor who understands how to support you is incredibly valuable. Organisations also need to consider, how to run both your programme and manage your mentoring relationship in a virtual way. Considering this, YBI launched its SOS mentoring which is a way to enhance established volunteer business mentoring programmes with new skills for mentors to ensure the quality and reach of support to entrepreneurs facing the Covid-19 crisis. This is done via developing and delivering new advanced mentoring tools and creating learning communities of mentors.

We know mentoring works. It is one of the most passionate topics of discussion in our global community. We are thrilled to see further research being conducted which continues to highlight and promote the value of mentoring and the importance of doing it well. Congratulations to all involved: we look forward to seeing more brilliant mentoring programmes being set up through the learning shared here.

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