Entrepreneurs are often advised to choose their partners carefully, as they may end up spending even more time with them than they do with friends and family. Mentors, perhaps, should be chosen even more carefully. Now Forsa, a new initiative from the UK-based Mowgli Foundation (supported by the G8), will make that process easier for entrepreneurs across the Arab world.
Forsa, which means ‘chance’ in Arabic, is a mentorship program that directly connects entrepreneurs in the Arab world with mentors to help them develop the human side of their projects.
Currently operating in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan, and Yemen, the initiative has several nontraditional aspects, unusual to an entrepreneur mentorship program. First, the program focuses on the entrepreneur, rather than the project. Forsa’s mentors focus on an entrepreneur’s time management, the balance between personal and professional responsibilities, leadership skills, and problem solving so as to help improve their business.
Forsa’s novel approach is also represented in how mentors are paired with entrepreneurs. Theodore Wilson, assistant administrator of the Education for Employment grant (the local partner of Mowgli in Egypt), explained “we connect entrepreneurs and mentors based on the diversity of their backgrounds to add the human factor often absent in recognized training programs.” For instance, a mobile apps developer may be paired with an NGO activist as mentor.
To enter the program, entrepreneurs fill out a registration form, then participate in a two day workshop to meet mentors and begin building year-long partnerships. Over the year-long program, during which entrepreneur and mentor meet once per month for three hours sessions during mentorship events; the entrepreneur can track progress by filling out periodical reports.
For those who want to join as mentors (and can register here), the program offers a chance to learn mentorship skills during a three-day training period before meeting entrepreneurs. Mentors could include ex-entrepreneurs who have helmed a successful project (with no less than $500,000 USD annual returns, Forsa stipulates), senior employees in international companies, or NGO executives.
Thus far, Forsa has organized five of their two day workshops for entrepreneurs in Egypt over the past four months: one in Alexandria and four in Cairo, the last of which was earlier this month, and several entrepreneurs found them beneficial.
Leila Sadki, the founder of Nola Cupcakes, has found Forsa to be different from any other mentorship program she’s experienced. According to her, while the training is a short-term project, attempting to work on a certain problem, the mentorship relationship is beneficial in the long-run.
But the mentor-entrepreneur relationship isn’t the only benefit of the program; the mentoring events also allow for networking even among those that don't make a year-long commitment. Imane Nasser, the founder of Nooon, an e-commerce site for cars accessories, met a Souq.com representative at one of the events, which led to the e-commerce giant showcasing Nooon products. She also met another entrepreneur who owns a shipping company and with whom she collaborated to export her products to Italy.
As for how to evolve the program, the entrepreneurs had a few suggestions. Ghada Sherif, a trainer in the Royal Training Academy said “the entrepreneur selection process could be more strict by applying specific standards to accept participants.” Ahmed Issa, the founder and CEO of Ideaneurs, proposed to “provide more tools that empower entrepreneurs, like a digital library, exclusive [support] content, and an electronic system to manage the relationship between the entrepreneur and mentor.”
This next year, the program hopes to reach a total of 250 entrepreneurs across its six countries; whether it will continue in Egypt will depend upon a decision to be made by the Russian leaders who take the reigns of the G8 for 2014.