By Neil King
Kathleen Bury, CEO of mentoring foundation Mowgli, on why mentoring is so important to fostering the next generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders
Please can you explain more about Mowgli and how it fits into MENA’s entrepreneurial landscape?
Population and labour force growth, quality and accessibility to education, large public sectors, and labour market rigidities have largely contributed to an increase in unemployment and decrease in economic activity in the MENA region in the last five years.
Especially since the Arab Spring’s socio-political upheavals and consequent economic repercussions.
Furthermore, the youth (15 - 24 years old) unemployment rate within the region currently stands at 27 percent - the highest globally - and between 50-80 million jobs are required over the next 10 years to maintain the current levels of unemployment.
This means that there is a requirement for a 40 percent expansion in available jobs. This need for sustainable job creation is becoming increasingly critical and hence supporting entrepreneurship in the MENA region, with job creation as a key target, is what Mowgli was established to support in 2008.
Mowgli aims to support the sustainable development of societies through the mentoring and evolution of entrepreneurs and leaders, through providing mentoring that inspires, connects and guides entrepreneurs and leaders to overcome life’s personal and business challenges.
Why did you launch Mowgli?
The Mowgli Foundation was launched In 2008 by serial entrepreneur Tony Bury, who has lived in the Middle East for over 40 years and set up 14 businesses in the region.
Tony realised that he had the privilege of having 14 mentors alongside him throughout his life who have been, and continue to be, key sources of inspiration, support and growth.
With this passion, he decided to make it his mission to provide an opportunity for every entrepreneur to be matched and supported by at least one mentor, in the hope that once someone has experienced the true beneﬁts and joy of mentoring, they will go on to mentor others. This in turn would facilitate the evolution of societies and leadership development models around a core principle of ‘to serve is to lead’.
How has the concept evolved since it was first devised?
Initially, we began running programmes in the Levant region, focusing on Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. We have expanded operations to North Africa and the Gulf region, serving entrepreneurs in 11 MENA countries.
In 2013, Mowgli was involved in co-delivering its biggest project to date, Forsa, which was launched under the auspices of the G8 Deauville Partnership Fund, headed up by the UK government in 2013.
Forsa is a MENA-wide SME mentoring project focused on Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen.
Within this project, the Mowgli mentoring methodology was licensed to support more than 300 entrepreneurs in the six countries. Our expansion into these places represents a huge leap for us in the region with regard to raising awareness of the concept of mentoring.
We have gained much in terms of introducing the concept of mentoring as a tool for sustainable growth, but mentoring is still a vague concept in MENA. We are continuing to nurture its rise in the region as a transformational activity for entrepreneurs, leaders, businesses and human capital at large.
Our programmes enable us to provide mentoring to corporates. providing their leaders with the opportunity to learn the art of mentoring as part of their own development, as well as to support an entrepreneur through mentoring as part of their CSR initiatives.
What do you need to see in somebody before they become a Mowgli mentor?
Our mentors come from a range of backgrounds and bring with them a wealth of experience.
We have welcomed professionals from various roles in the profit-making and non-profit sector, as well as seasoned entrepreneurs who often have a unique edge in the role as mentor because they have been on the entrepreneurial journey and faced many challenges themselves.
Mentoring is an activity that is based on trust between the mentor and entrepreneur, so before anyone becomes a Mowgli Mentor we need to see a genuine willingness for that person to be ready to give of him or herself without any expectation of return.
We look for people who demonstrate qualities of compassion, authenticity, humility and exceptional listening skills.
What is the importance of mentoring to entrepreneurs and SMEs?
Many entrepreneurs in the region are seeking someone else to tell them what to do. This is a norm that’s deeply embedded within the MENA business culture.
However, what a mentor does is empower the entrepreneur and instil confidence within them to help them overcome doubt, take responsibility for decisions and develop themselves as a leader. This will often involve simply enabling the entrepreneur to complete the one task that can be done today.
It also allows the entrepreneur to focus on the important, but less urgent aspects of building a business, which so often gets pushed aside by day-to-day details. This creates impact on leadership, which is why mentoring is so important to entrepreneurs and SME development; the mentor is a key enabler to life-long personal development, education and leadership development for the entrepreneur.
What are the wider benefits of mentorship programmes to the region’s business environment?
As well as acting as a catalyst for entrepreneurial growth, mentoring also provides an opportunity for business and corporate leaders to expand their skill sets and range of talents.
Mowgli believes that mentors have as much to gain from a mentoring relationship as the entrepreneur, providing the opportunity for someone to give of him/herself in a voluntary capacity and facilitates the transformation of the region’s existing business leaders from good to great.
Leaders who feel as though they have a purpose, have a strong ability to actively listen, understand people, build authentic relationships and take responsibility for their decisions are critical to achieving accelerated success in the work place.
Mentoring can help transform teams and companies by improving intrapreneurship, governance, accountability, productivity and profitability.
What are the main challenges that mentors help entrepreneurs overcome?
Entrepreneurs come to us with a range of challenges - both business and personal, which are often interrelated.
On a business level, one of the most common challenges is the ability to increase revenue and profit by way of securing clients.
On a personal and professional level, we find that the skills needed for an entrepreneur to lead and grow a business are the vital aspect they are lacking.
Many entrepreneurs feel they lack the empowerment to ask for help, or generally disbelieve in their ventures and themselves. This is emphasised by the regional tendency to view entrepreneurship as unsafe - often with a lack of family support and an ingrained fear of failure which prevents innovation and risk-taking.
The entrepreneurial journey can often be a lonely one, so having a mentor or a trusted and neutral companion is often vital. They will listen and ask searching questions to help you find responses to challenges, thus building internal capability and helping yield immense results and growth.
How do mentors get the best out of entrepreneurs?
Mowgli’s approach is to provide a one-to-one trusting relationship between mentor and entrepreneur.
This is transformational, and at its most effective during periods of transition and change.
A good mentor becomes the anchor and key reference point during times when there is doubt and uncertainty about the future.
Through the close mentoring relationship the entrepreneurs begin to realise that all the barriers, anxieties and hurdles that hold them back are in fact common to all. By understanding and accepting this, the entrepreneur is able to step into and achieve his or her full potential.
Throughout the mentoring programmes, which typically last 12 months, we provide a number of ongoing support services to the entrepreneurs and mentors. We also provide opportunities for alumni to re-inspire, reconnect and leverage Mowgli’s growing Mowgli Family Network (alumni), which has over 1,300 entrepreneurs and mentors globally.
What is Mowgli’s goal? What does it hope to achieve in the long-term?
Our primary goal is job creation and the development of economically sustainable societies.
By providing entrepreneurs and business leaders with inspirational mentors to guide and empower them, we hope to signiﬁcantly increase the chances of sustainable economic growth, as well as the success of these entrepreneurs on both a personal and business level.
We also seek to instill the culture of mentoring and place it at the heart of entrepreneurship and the business environment in MENA, with a view that the mentor has such an impact on the entrepreneur, that he or she too feels inspired to become a mentor to others and pass on the gift of mentoring.
Are you encouraged by young people in the region? Is the future of MENA in safe hands?
We are continually impressed by the energy, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit of the young entrepreneurs of the region.
There is an abundance of talent waiting to be nurtured and we believe that if done correctly, mentoring can really unleash and nurture the full potential of this talent. Undoubtedly, Mowgli is eager to be part of the changes that these young people are eager to make within their societies.
Being an entrepreneur in the MENA region is approximately five to 10 times harder than being an entrepreneur in Europe or the US. However, the future of MENA has a lot to look forward to with the entrepreneurial talent that exists.
If entrepreneurial ecosystems are developed to serve the needs of entrepreneurs and provide a nurturing space for them to try, fail, learn, grow and mentor, we would see a very different and economically prosperous region in the future.
What words of advice would you offer to entrepreneurs in the region?
The entrepreneurial journey is one that we describe as a Hero’s Journey. It is full of highs and lows, but it is within the lows that you learn your greatest lessons, predominantly about yourself, and where you develop your leadership capabilities.
If you are ready for this hugely rewarding and empowering journey, find a mentor who will be a neutral voice that will stand next to you in a trust-based shoulder-to-shoulder capacity and will explicitly serve your needs. Engage with your mentor, listen and learn from them as to how you can gain the most value from them. When you have experienced the power of mentoring, please pass it on and support another entrepreneur or someone else within your community.
One of my favourite sayings is ‘potential minus interference equals success’. On your own or together with your mentor, identify your interferences, whether they are internal or external, and then begin to address them. This will help free up your headspace and allow you to focus on following your personal vision and making your business successful.
Failure will be part of this journey… celebrate it and learn from it, it will provide you with your greatest lessons.
To find out more about Mowlgi Foundation, visit www.mowgli.org.uk.