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Learning from mistakes - creating a remote mentoring programme

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The inaugural Innovation Awards at our flagship event, the Global Youth Entrepreneurship Summit, celebrated not only the success stories of our most innovative members but also recognised their failures in pursuing innovation. Development Solutions, Youth Business International (YBI) member in Mongolia, won the ‘Most Valuable Failure’ award for their efforts to develop a remote mentoring programme in rural Mongolia. We spoke to Executive Director Bat-Orshikh Erdenebat about what went wrong and what they learned from the process.

Tell us about the programme and how it was developed.

In 2016, Youth Business Mongolia partnered with the Department of Employment and Social Welfare and the National Network of Business Incubators to launch a mentoring programme in remote provinces. It aimed to extend the reach of services to underserved young people in rural areas. We selected 40 individuals with a broad range of experience in economics, agriculture, textile handicraft and office management to become mentors and invited them to attend training. The three-day workshop, focused on developing their capabilities to support mentees to reach their full potential. After identifying young entrepreneurs who received an employment support grant from the government, the group were invited to attend training with the mentors. They acquired knowledge on how to establish relationships and continue with regular meetings remotely. After the training, YBM became responsible for managing the mentor-mentee relationships remotely with a YBM mentor manager following up on progress every month.

Why did the programme not work as effectively as you had hoped?

Unfortunately, when the mentors returned to their hometowns, most of them were not confident to play a leading role in the mentor-mentee relationship. We identified three main reasons for this. The first was the lack of a mentoring culture in rural areas; even in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, public awareness on mentoring remains low. The second was cultural communication. In general, rural Mongolians are considered to be very shy and insular and it was challenging to establish relationships with people they did not know. The final hurdle was poor internet and telephone connections. We decided to monitor the situation for half a year, but things did not improve.  

What did you do to try and resolve the situation?

Learning from what went wrong, we started to work on developing a new delivery model. We received support and guidance from the YBI Mentoring Team and their advisor, Professor Bob Garvey. Based on international practice, a mentoring coordinator was appointed in each province to manage the delivery of the programme.  A total of 10 coordinators, officers at local labour departments, were recruited and trained, each for a different province and as a result, the programme has been much more successful. We now have 30 remote mentors supporting over 100 remote mentees.

What lessons did you learn from the whole process?

Firstly that mentoring coordinators are crucial in facilitating and managing mentor-mentee relationships in rural settings. Both local mentors and mentees are underserved and need the support and assistance from mentoring coordinators to develop their relationships. We also discovered that multi-language material was required to reach more young people in the Northeast Asia region. Our webpage is now available in four different languages (Mongolian, English, Russian and Chinese) to attract more young people to the programme. Finally, partnerships with local bodies and organisations are crucial for the success of rural programmes. YBM now collaborates with local employment departments, business associations and incubation centres to promote mentoring in rural areas. International donors are also supporting the partnership to help implement the mentoring programme successfully.

What are the next steps for the project moving forward?

As a result of the number of lessons we learned from this project, we are developing a business mentoring programme handbook for youth entrepreneurship in rural and remote areas expected to be completed in July 2019 with financial assistance of the Youth Employment Project funded by the Swiss Development Cooperation. Business development reading materials are beneficial to young, remote entrepreneurs. The literacy rate in Mongolia is around 97% and, with a lack of technology, rural populations often learn through reading. The handbook sets out a programme, adapted from the original mentoring programme, which includes rural outreach, selection, training, matching, reporting and monitoring, as well as recruitment and development of mentoring coordinators, mentors and mentees. Additionally, Oyu Tolgoi LLC is helping YBM create local mentors and facilitators in the Gobi region.

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