Time for Africa to leverage the power of mentorship

Sitting at 30,000 feet flying over the Atlantic after attending a dynamic Techstars and AcceleratingAfrica event in Manhattan, I was left with a lasting impression on the quality of the African entrepreneurs on display as they diligently and effortlessly pitched their business ideas to a diverse and engaged audience. The cohort of entrepreneurs came from Uganda, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and South Africa and the audience was made up of the veritable United Nations that compared to the actual U.N. up the road.

As I sat listening to the presentations from these young, passionate and committed African entrepreneurs from Bamba, Wala, Dopay and Mobius Motors to name only a few, I kept asking myself the same question: What is the next most important thing that these and other entrepreneurs need right after the business idea, which came first, and then the capital, that came second, in order for them become super successful and to defy the reduce the chances of failure (which as we all know is any inevitable outcome that affects any sample size of startups)? The answer to that question for me is mentorship. There are a number of reasons why mentorship is now, more than ever, accessible and needed for the current and future group of African entrepreneurs.

Mentorship is defined succinctly by Wikipedia as “a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person”. The essential component of this definition is that a person who has more experience can pass that experience on to a lesser experienced person and, in so doing, increase the chances of a succesful outcome. And this is exactly what we all want for African startups so that they can create more successful outcomes, which in turn leads to more creation, more entrepenruship, more jobs and a faster rate of growth for the African continent.

In the traditional mentoring model, the engagement between the mentor and the mentee took place in a physical, face to face environment, usually one of their offices or at a local coffee shop. That model is now outdated and African entrepreneurs are uniquely poised to be able to benefit from four main changes in technology that will allow them to adopt mentoring more effectively and more efficiently that ever before. The four main changes that are working in their favour are: smart mobile devices, broadband connectivity, cloud services, and the internet.

Mentors can now sit in any part of the globe and make themselves available to mentees who are sitting in Lagos, Kampala or Accra. They don’t have to be in the same geographic place due to the cloud based mentoring platforms that are now emerging, offering a full range of options to the mentees. What is also changing in this space, and an area that I advocate and encourage, is the “bite-sizing” of the mentoring relationship. Why only have one mentor who may for example be great in finance or marketing, but weak in supply chain knowledge or even human capital recruiting practices? Let’s help mentees get the specific advice that they need from the best possible sources, so that we can ensure a greater probability of success.

YPO, the premier network or business leaders is currently testing an online mentoring matching platform in Africa for six months called MentorCloud. During this pilot, up to 900 members from YPO can connect with other members across the African continent.

Although this will start out as an internal platform, the vision is to open it up so that YPO members are able to engage with mentees from their own organizations and communities in all parts of Africa.

The experience so far shows that mentors are benefiting too, with older more experienced CEOs learning some of the newer business skills and at times even investing in projects from younger CEOs.

Imagine if other global organisations could extend their mentorship programmes and avail themselves to the current group of African entrepreneurs using similar mentoring platforms, and how this would enable Africa to leapfrog current socio economic challenges the continent faces. We live in an exciting time and we need to embrace and promote opportunities to assist entrepreneurs however we can.

*Chris Rolfe is a YPO member and Director at Christopher Rolfe Advisory. YPO is a global community of chief executives dedicated to becoming Better Leaders through Lifelong Learning and Idea Exchange.TM We create trusted spaces where leaders gather, connect, share and grow. The YPO platform provides more than 25,000 members in more than 130 countries – representing diversified industries and types of businesses – with access to extraordinary educational opportunities, alliances with leading institutions, and interest-based communities to support their businesses, communities and families. For more information, visit ypo.org