Alix Landais, a consultant at IMC Worldwide, shared this insight as she introduced a webinar on building effective and sustainable mentoring networks in the Caribbean.
The webinar, “Building Effective Mentoring Networks,” was the third in a series of professional development webinars from Accelerate Caribbean. It was led by Vimala Palaniswamy, CEO and cofounder of Demeter Entrepreneurs Support Network. Demeter is a virtual network that helps entrepreneurs grow successful businesses that build and share value in low income countries.
An accomplished entrepreneur herself, Palaniswamy is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Emory University, and the University of Georgia. She shared her expertise on building mentoring networks, determining what to expect from mentors, optimizing the benefits from mentoring relationships, and using mentoring networks to improve a business’s performance.
Who Are Mentors and What Do They Do?
Mentors come in a number of forms, from advocates to business coaches and subject matter experts. In general, they offer valuable experience and networks and help to develop the leadership skills of entrepreneurs.
“As role models, mentors share their industry experience,” Palaniswamy said. “As functional mentors, they provide support in key areas of the enterprise, such as marketing, accounting, and law. […] When serving as a trusted advisor, the engagement is more at a strategic level — you can check in with them when you have an issue or matter to deal with.”
Creating a Mentorship Network
Successful entrepreneurs begin with a great idea, and bring together the people and resources to make their idea successful. However, developing countries tend to have a limited supply of mentors who can offer insight into the challenging world of entrepreneurship.
“Having someone who has been there and done that successfully in your network can be very powerful,” Palaniswamy said.
To create a mentorship network that will help your business thrive, you should first define your goals and the kind of support you need from a mentor. You should also determine how you would like to interact with a mentor — virtual, face-to-face or a combination of the two.
And don’t forget the diaspora, Palaniswamy added. “In the Caribbean, the diaspora is a good source to tap into for mentors, as it is filled with successful business people who are happy to engage with entrepreneurs in their home countries. Serving as a mentor is a great way to keep in touch with what is happening in their homelands.”
Formalizing the Relationship and Managing Expectations
“The key to all successful mentoring relationships is trust,” Palaniswamy said. “When you are selecting your mentors, ensure they are trustworthy and they will not take away your business ideas or intellectual property.”
Once you have chosen your mentors, it is time to formalize the relationship. Entrepreneurs should consider developing a contract that clearly defines a mentor’s time commitment, compensation, and reporting. (In many emerging markets, mentors are routinely offered compensation, in contrast to the informal and voluntary mentor relationships common in the United States.)
“Mentors should also be asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement,” Palaniswamy added. “Some mentors may opt to serve on a voluntary basis. For those whose engagement is for an extended period — for example, three years — some type of financial compensation is usually the norm to show appreciation of their work.”
Once you have identified your mentor and struck up a relationship, it is important to keep your mentor fully engaged. To do this, both parties should agree upon their time commitment and expectations, and regularly share feedback about their experience.
“This is important to ensure that no one is disappointed,” Palaniswamy said.
Could you benefit from a mentoring network? Begin by brainstorming your business needs and personal goals. Reach out to potential mentors through universities, local businesses, professional meetups and conferences, and regional organizations like the Women Innovators Network in the Caribbean (WINC), PitchIT Caribbean, Accelerate Caribbean, and Caribbean Climate Innovation Center.
If you are interested in serving as a mentor or entrepreneur with the Demeter Entrepreneurs Support Network, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Accelerate Caribbean is an initiative of infoDev and the World Bank Group's Entrepreneurship Program for Innovation in the Caribbean (EPIC). It aims to build the capacity of regional business enablers to innovate and scale their service offerings for entrepreneurs. The project is carried out by IMC Worldwide Ltd in partnership with Koltai & Company, UWI Consulting, and the Barbados Coalition of Service Industries (BCSI). EPIC is a seven-year $20 million program funded by the government of Canada that seeks to build an enabling ecosystem to foster high-growth and sustainable enterprises throughout the Caribbean.
For more information, visit acceleratecaribbean.com.