It was September 13, 2016 that we, the Belize Cohort of the WINC Acceleration program, reconvened after an almost two-month vacation from our monthly sessions. It is a part of the Entrepreneurship Program for Innovation in the Caribbean (EPIC), which is a seven-year program funded by the Government of Canada, and implemented by the InfoDev entrepreneurship program of the World Bank Group. The eight women in attendance were charged and excited about once again hooking up in-person to flesh out ideas and thoughts about their businesses. Our session that day was focused on Making Decisions. To break into that extremely important matter, which on the surface may appear mundane because it seems so obvious, the women were asked to reflect on the private sessions they were each having with their personal mentors assigned by the program.
As the facilitator, I listened in awe to the participants’ feedback about how mentoring has impacted their lives and businesses. “I cannot begin to tell you the depth of gratitude I have for this program because of what I have learnt from my mentor” said one participant. She continued “I was required to get into the trenches [her way of expressing the request that came from her mentor for her to do market research] and understand my market. As a result of what I discovered from my research I made a change in the niche that I am targeting.”
Another chimed in, “My mentor assigned me the book “E-myth” to read and it is like that book was written just for me. It is so helpful you should read it.” In her usual matter-of-fact voice a third participant stated, “My mentor is so right for me. Within the first few minutes of my first session, he got directly to the heart of the matter that I have been struggling with for a long time, and I need to make a decision about it.” Later in the session that day, she did indeed make her decision! As the sharing moved around the room, it dawned on me that the ladies had fully set aside their initial trepidation about having a mentor. As a matter of fact, it appeared as if though most had a full 360 degree shift.
Quite often entrepreneurs hold the belief that they alone must head their boats, with zero or minimal decision making input from outside, which make the entrepreneurial journey so much harder. Mentors are a resource and a useful medium for learning and enhancing decision making. Yet, mentorship, as an important support system, is often unused or underutilized. For entrepreneurs to grow from a mentoring experience, mentors have to be persons of insight, knowledge and experience with whom a long-term relationship can be built. The wisdom of someone who has journeyed the path of turning a vision into a successful business venture can help a budding entrepreneur save much-needed money through cost saving advise or can assist an entrepreneur stuck at the survivalist point by network sharing to open new avenues for growth, or, on the personal development side, can help a self-doubting individual build the confidence needed to move her business to the next level.
The reality for entrepreneurs in Belize, however, is that it is a great challenge finding individuals willing to serve as mentors. Reasons vary but the most critical is that we have yet to learn that the onus is also on the private sector to become actively engaged in building Belize’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. That includes successful entrepreneurs giving of their personal time to support someone over an extended period of time and caring for the outcome of the decisions that are made under such tutelage. Entrepreneurs must likewise recognize the significance of a mentor’s contribution and treat the relationship with respect and reverence.
As the facilitator for the Belize Cohort of the WINC AP, am truly grateful to those individuals who stepped up and answered the call to serve as mentors for the women in the Belize cohort of the WINC AP as their support greatly helped to make the program a success. So, on behalf of the women, a great thank you to our mentors:
Celene Cleland Gomez
Heneka Watkis Porter