At Youth Business International (YBI) we have always passionately believed in the importance of voluntary business mentoring - the idea of providing underserved young entrepreneurs with a professional confidant. It’s why we offer our network of 56 organisations in 52 countries a robust and holistic mentoring programme. We help them build and strengthen their programmes so they can give young entrepreneurs mentoring, alongside a wider package of entrepreneurship training, access to finance and other business development support.
In 2015 we set out to understand what works, not only in terms of business development but also personal development. The two-year research project, which involved over 1,600 in-depth interviews with mentees and mentors,tracked the impact of mentoring in two phases. By the end we found 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.
Researchers from Middlesex University Business School and the Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development Research (CEEDR) spoke to members in 42 countries, sending out surveys to establish the mentoring landscape. They then chose eight countries and over two phases conducted the in-depth interviews.
The resulting report conclusively proves mentoring makes a difference and during my time as CEO at YBI I have been lucky enough to meet many entrepreneurs that agree.
They talk about the difference these relationships make to them as a person when starting out in business. Their mentors are usually the ones they turn to when faced with a question or dilemma: should I add a new product or service? Where is the best place to market my idea? Where can I find new investors? How do I speak to people about my idea? What events should I be going to? This list is endless.
These are all the kinds of questions Zoe Loupatty had. Aged just 18 and from an area of high unemployment in Netherlands she decided to set up a health food café. Taking inspiration from similar outlets Zoe knew what she wanted, but had no idea how to get there. Alongside a loan, Zoe relied on her mentor to guide her through start-up and she now has a successful restaurant, serving delicious food.
As well as confidence our research identified that by the end mentors can become more than just an impartial sounding board, they become a friend. Recently I met Njeri from Anguilla. A successful entrepreneur already, her mentor was helping to grow and scale her business when hurricane Irma hit the island. Njeri lost her home and business, she felt all was lost. But her mentor helped her stay positive and gave her the courage to move forward and not give up.
Young people like Zoe and Njeri are critical to future economic global development. Their ideas and innovations have the potential to help local communities – and beyond – grow and thrive. But with 66 million young people currently unemployed across the world, it seems much of this potential is being lost. YBI believes empowering young people to succeed in running their own business is part of the solution and by providing a holistic support package, including mentoring, YBI and its members are working to do just that.