Speed Mentoring in Cairo: A Step Towards a Mentorship Framework?

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Finding a business mentor is a lot like finding a date. Physical attractiveness is important for dates, professional attractiveness for mentors and mentees. Attractiveness is useless though if your personalities clash. So Dalia Al-Said of USAID thought speed-mentoring would be a good idea, and organised a session at the AUC New Cairo campus recently. This was the second session, as a trial session was held in Alexandria two months earlier.

Speed mentoring works similarly to speed dating.  With dating, the women stay seated while the men move from table to table. Here the mentors remained at the tables and the mentees moved.  A key difference to the dating setup though is that the mentees didn’t get to meet all the mentors because each mentoring session took half an hour. A speed date is normally only a few minutes long.

You might think that half an hour isn’t long enough, it isn’t, but this wasn’t a standard mentoring session, so everyone had to focus on one key point in the conversation. Although the mentees ranged in age and experience, nearly all of them made the same mistake.  They all took too long describing their business idea.  One mentee team took 15 minutes to describe their business, and at the end the mentor was still not clear what made their idea different. Of course, the mentor realized that what these mentees actually needed help with was their elevator pitch. And that was the beauty of this session: mentees got the quick guidance they needed, even if it wasn’t the help they’d been looking for. The general consensus among the mentees was very positive and appreciative; they were eager to learn.

During the debriefing meeting afterwards, the mentors were also happy with the session, but one mentor did feel that there needed to be a filtering process to limit future mentees to those who are “born entrepreneurs.”  That statement brought a swift rebuke from a couple of the other mentors who thought it wasn’t for mentors to prejudge or hold prejudices; rather, they should simply give mentees the type of help that they needed.

The role of mentorship is taking on more importance as the Egyptian entrepreneurial ecosystem grows.  Other organisations such as Injaz and Endeavor already have mentorship programs, although Injaz's tends to be targeted at students. 

With this in mind, USAID brought together many of the organizations and individuals interested in fostering and encouraging mentorship later in the week. They shared best practice, examples of foreign mentorship networks and possible strategies going forward. There was grumbling from quite a few of the attendees that USAID had again decided to fly in US presenters, when there were locals with the relevant experience.  But everyone in the room did agree that Egypt needs some sort of national mentorship framework. 

From what I understood talking to the relevant parties, USAID wants to partner with The General Authority for Investment (GAFI). USAID will provide the strategy; GAFI will execute.

We’ll have to wait and see how beneficial direct government involvement in entrepreneurship will be, even for something as defined as mentorship.  But what we do know is that the need for organised mentoring will grow exponentially. 

So I for one am looking forward to the next speed-mentoring event.  And perhaps next time the mentees will get to meet all the mentors, because finding Mr. or Mrs. Right is all too often a numbers game.

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