Photo: Cherie Blair Foundation. Gladys England, an entrepreneur in Sierra Leone, supported by the Cherie Blair Foundation and AFFORD.

The Difference a Day in a Year Makes

By Annalisa Sarasini, Global Head of Trade, smartTrade Technologies

The Difference a Day in a Year Makes

We all know time is our most precious commodity. We all struggle to find enough time to dedicate to our families, hobbies, interest, work and friends. So when it comes time to embark on something new, we often get scared by the time commitment involved.

“Will I have enough time for it? What is the time commitment?” This is actually one of the most frequent questions I get when I tell people about the Mentoring Women in Business Programme of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, an innovative programme that connects women entrepreneurs in developing and emerging economies with mentors around the world. People show interest and think this is an amazing initiative, but then occasionally shy away thinking it will be too much. Too much time they mean.

This makes me think, how much is too much, how much is your time worth and how far can a little time go?

After a few people told me, “I don’t have enough time,” I started thinking about it. Is it really that much? The basic commitment the programme asks is two hours a month (with some flexibility). Do the math and this is just 24 hours a year. That’s just one day. Yes, one day in 365. Would you hesitate to spend a day watching football, hitting the sales or lounging in front of the television? One day doesn’t sound like that much, right?

In that one day a year, you could make a tremendous difference – for yourself and for a woman in another part of the world. Mentoring is a two-way street and both mentees and mentors build skills, confidence, networks and friendships through the experience. Committing a small chunk of your time can lead to great strides and returns, as I’ve learned myself and from other mentees and mentors around the world.

One example is Kythzia, a mentee and accomplished woman entrepreneur who runs a handmade ceramics business with indigenous women in Mexico. By working with her mentor, Georgina from the UK, she polished her business plan, analysed her cash flow, looked for philanthropic support for her enterprise, hired employees and revised her organisational structure. She worked on brokering a deal with a major restaurant chain, her first client in Europe, and won accolades for her business plan in a competition.

On the other side of the world, in Egypt to be precise, we have Noha. Her business enables and promotes open innovation crowdsourcing in the Middle East. She says that with the help of her mentor, Terri from the US, not only has she been able to overcome the day-to-day challenges of running a business, but she has also been able to revise her business strategy, increase her networks, refine her financial plan and hire new employees. Noha is now working to grow her business globally. She said, “The past year was filled with challenges, and my mentor helped me throughout them. What I learnt in the program helped me tackle issues in my business, plan for getting a product out and communicate with team members. With the help of my mentor, I was able to see how planning a business is different than planning a project. In a business, you need to figure out how to scale the business and revenue streams from day one.”

Not too far from Pakistan, in the Philippines, we find Mary Ann. She worked with Prashanth, an entrepreneur from the UK, to take her tourism business idea forward and submit funding proposals. She was successful in bringing in the necessary finances to launch her business, even earlier than planned. She said that the mentoring experience gave her, “new vision, new hope and new inspiration.”

As well as these amazing stories, there are many more from mentees in many other countries who have made exceptional progress due to their strong ideas and determination and their mentors’ support. But, it isn’t just the mentees who benefit.

Vidyasagar, an engineer from the US, was matched with a mentee from India who had launched and was managing a children’s library. He helped her develop new marketing approaches and a structured business development plan. In doing so, Vidyagasar acquired communications skills and specialised knowledge that proved valuable in his own work. He said, “I work in a company that is expanding into emerging economies. The perspectives I gained as a mentor regarding challenges faced by entrepreneurs was very useful. This was like a case study in understanding the role played by technology (mobile, social media, etc.) in helping upcoming entrepreneurs in emerging economies.”

While Leslee, a human resources manager from Ireland, was matched with Valli, the owner of a small beauty shop in Malaysia. While supporting her mentee to expand her business network and open her first shop, Leslee also built her communication skills and ability to develop talent. She said, “The rewards were quite significant in that you have to challenge yourself to apply your own experiences and perspectives effectively to help someone working and living in a different culture.”

How about me, my mentees and involvement in the programme? In my first year in the programme, I worked with a woman in Honduras who makes paper products. She was able to create new products, gain new types of clients and organise her business strategy and structure. I’m now spending a second year in the programme and have been matched with a woman from India who is building an online community for people to share books and book reviews.

During a short interview last year, I was asked to describe in a word what the experience of being a mentor means to me. I picked the word friendship. There are many reasons for it, but most of all I found friends in my mentees as we worked towards one goal. We celebrated successes and progress and developed this “partnership” which is very close to a friendship. This, to me, is a huge reward and worth a lot. That’s why I do not mind giving one day in a year. It is a matter of priorities and time can’t be an excuse in this case.

As we approach International Women’s Day, I’d like to encourage you to commit one day – just 24 hours – this year to supporting a pioneering, determined woman as she builds her business, skills and confidence through mentoring. I think you’ll find that it is “one day” well spent and will bring you many great opportunities, good returns and potentially a long-lasting friendship.

To find out more about the programme, please visit Apply by 23 March to get involved in the Foundation’s next intake.

Editor’s Note:

This blog was previously published on the Huffington Post Blog and is reproduced with permission.

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