|Promoting Women's Entrepreneurship Development Based on Good Practice Programmes: Some Experiences from the North to the South - Working Paper N° 9 (ILO, 2001, 107 p.)|
|4. PROGRAMMES PROMOTING MSES IN DEVELOPED COUNTRIES|
Mentoring is an important form of assistance for supporting female microentrepreneurs. It has been found that women often want follow-up guidance after having had a chance to apply new skills and knowledge. Mentoring can provide this guidance and be very effective as it addresses the specific problems faced by the microentrepreneur. Mentoring before start-up can help women determine if business ownership really is the right career choice. This section reviews different aspects of mentoring programmes, drawing information from a range of programmes. The review will focus on the different methods of providing mentoring services. The performance evaluation will be a general assessment of the potential of mentoring programmes to achieve good practice in the various evaluation categories.
4.5.1 Methods of providing mentoring services
(see bibliography on Women's Enterprise Society of British Columbia April 1999, Stenstrom 1998, Employment NOW Community Initiative 1998)
The purpose of mentoring services is to provide women entrepreneurs with support and guidance and to facilitate the sharing of ideas and information to help ensure their businesses survive and grow. Many programmes also mention that mentoring can help decrease the isolation many women experience when starting up a small business. Mentoring is not a form of networking. The relationships are more personalized, long-term and involve sharing experiences and solving problems. For mentoring to help the clients, mentors must be viewed as a source of help, with the responsibility for the business firmly placed with the clients.
Mentoring services are commonly offered at an individual level, though some programmes also offer group mentoring. The Women's Enterprise Society in British Columbia (WES-BC) offers both types of mentoring services. Group mentoring involves about 20 clients and a female volunteer mentor. The group meets every two weeks and clients pay a small fee for the service. The volunteer mentors are experienced businesswomen. WES-BC's individual programme places responsibility for organizing mentoring sessions on clients. They find their own mentors, though WES-BC will help in making contact with the person and monitors the meetings for the first four months. Clients pay the mentors an hourly wage.
The other programmes offer forms of individual mentoring with more agency involvement in pairing up mentors and clients. The MELLOW programme in the European Union is a transnational mentoring programme with a sectoral focus. It mentors students and young professionals in technical fields - often areas where there are few women. Mentoring by experienced women in the sector can encourage young women to enter the sectors, some of whom may choose entrepreneurship opportunities. Long-term contact with mentors may help those women who have chosen entrepreneurship to survive the ups and downs of starting a business in a male dominated industry. Combining mentoring with a focus on a sector with few women can be a good means of encouraging women to enter new industries. Finding female mentors may be difficult.
Mentoring can also be provided to women to help them decide whether entrepreneurship is the right choice for them. The University of Wales Lampeter offers such a mentoring programme. It targets women in the pre-start-up phase and helps women to gain a practical understanding of what is involved in operationalizing their business idea. Instead of mentoring in the traditional sense of meeting to discuss issues, this programme pairs women with established MSE owners who they observe at work for up to one week. The business owners not only show what it takes to run a business, but also discuss how they started their businesses, the successes and failures involved, and the tensions of combining work and family. One difficulty in the programme is finding appropriate partners in the same field. Sometimes this is not possible and clients are matched with someone with a similar business philosophy. Clients are brought together at the end of the week to talk about their experiences and share their learning.
These programmes highlight the varied ways mentoring programmes can be organized. Mentors can be women or men, mentoring can be done on an individual or group basis, using volunteers or paid mentors. How mentoring services are provided will influence the programme's performance in terms of cost, impact, effectiveness and sustainability. Outreach of mentoring services is unlikely to be high, except perhaps where it is provided in groups. Demand is likely to be high, but the service's supply will be constrained by the availability of mentors.
The cost of individual mentoring programmes will be high unless volunteers are used. Use of volunteers, while positive from an efficiency and effectiveness perspective, may decrease impact if the quality of mentors is low. The potential high costs of the programme (without volunteers) means that charging some type of fee would assist in achieving institutional sustainability. Supply of mentors will also affect institutional and financial sustainability, so agencies must always be alert for new sources of experienced entrepreneurs to fill this need. Assuming the use of good quality mentors, the effect of mentoring on MSE sustainability can be high, particularly individual mentoring since it is focused on problems specific to the entrepreneur and enterprise. The individual focus of mentoring services also implies that its effectiveness and potential impact are high.
Group-based mentoring should be less costly because the cost of the mentor's time is divided amongst more people. However, it will be less focused on each individual's needs and may be less effective. The benefits of group membership may outweigh the lack of individual attention and individuals may learn from others' problems.
Some of the mentoring programmes above show evidence of gender-awareness in their structure. For example, many ensure the mentor is female, which provides the client with a role model, someone who may be more likely to understand what it means to be female in the business environment. For group-based mentoring, the groups were all female, which should increase the clients' comfort level within the group and their willingness to share problems. Mentors in this case were also female. Because the clients direct the content of the mentoring sessions in that they discuss current problems, the sessions can cover issues related to the supporting environment around the woman's business, such as where to access to childcare or how to deal with an unsupportive spouse. Scheduling of meetings between an individual client and her mentor should be able to adjust to the needs of the two women in terms of the demands of responsibilities outside the business. For group mentoring, meeting schedules should be sensitive to the multiple demands placed on women, and the times should be scheduled when least likely to interfere with other responsibilities.
Because mentoring programmes often do not require much agency input, they should not be difficult to replicate in developing countries, and it appears that the demand for such individualized attention would exist. However, identifying and recruiting potentially good mentors, as well as the programme costs, may be the constraining factors in replication in developing countries. Mentoring programmes may end up heavily dependent on donor funds, unless a mixed strategy of delivery is used and clients from a range of income categories are involved in the programme, some of whom are able to pay fees. Recruiting volunteer mentors to reduce costs faces the same quality and supply problems mentioned in section 4.1 on use of volunteers.
Lessons Learned from Mentoring:
· Mentoring can provide the follow-up contact women entrepreneurs demand. They can access assistance after trying out new ideas learned in training programmes.
· Mentoring can be offered to individuals or groups. Individual mentoring may be more effective and have greater impact as it will address problems specific to the women's businesses. Group-based mentoring can offer other benefits, such as group solidarity and the opportunity to learn from others' experiences.
· Mentoring can be an expensive service to provide. Using volunteer mentors can decrease cost, but mentor quality must be monitored. Supply of female mentors, volunteer or not, may be a problem.
· Coupling mentoring with a sectoral focus can be a good strategy to help women enter new industries.
· Use of female mentors and having women-only group mentoring programmes may increase the likelihood women will use the services.