Seasoned entrepreneurs often have a wealth of knowledge and expertise up their sleeve, so, why not tap into that vault of experience? In many cases, entrepreneurs are keen to share their insights as it is often mentorship that helped them on their journey. After all, the more you know, the better you can do. And we, at empowering people. Network (epNetwork), consider the connection to mentors a highly valuable part of capacity building.
It is because of this intrinsic value that we launched the epMentoring program at the beginning of 2021, together with our friends at enpact – a nonprofit organization focused on empowering entrepreneurs in emerging economies around the world.
The program aims to help entrepreneurs by creating a step-by-step roadmap to help grow their organizations. Beyond a simple source of advice, the program helps to instill the mindset needed to be a successful founder in the long run. Throughout the course of 12 months, 11 entrepreneurs from epNetwork and friends receive dedicated, ongoing mentorship with in-depth one-on-one sessions. Two boot camps, at the beginning and the end of the program, complement the program with workshops to explore new perspectives and engage in peer-learning and networking. In advance of our closure of the program in spring 2022, we were happy to round up all participants for a virtual mid-term meeting at the beginning of November. Here, the entrepreneurs had the chance to reconnect and share their organizations’ achievements, challenges, and learnings from this year.
To start the discussions on a positive note, all entrepreneurs shared their recent successes and achievements. Many organizations reported that they were undergoing different kinds of reflection that have led to a deepened understanding of their core strengths and their work’s value. This reflection was also possible through mentors asking the right questions, as Mirembe Nnassuuna, CEO from MakaPads, highlighted in this article. Other organizations’ achievements included the establishment and strengthening of relationships in addition to the introduction of new implementing partners, suppliers, and a technical consultant. Additionally, some organizations were complimented for receiving grants which allowed for the development and implementation of new projects. EOS International shared their success story that came true, not despite of, but, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the general awareness for safe drinking water and hygiene became more top of mind, the demand for the organization’s water quality solutions also skyrocketed as EOS met a new milestone of reaching over three-quarter of a million people with access to safe drinking water in Central America.
However, as expected, operating during a pandemic has predominantly challenged most organizations to varying degrees. MakaPads, for example, working on menstrual hygiene and education, found it hard to reach their customers due to the ban of public gatherings. LakeHub, shifting their courses from onsite to online, lost many of its students due to bad internet connectivity, especially in rural areas. Nonspec struggled with the different country- and region-specific lockdowns and the consequential closure of facilities. Similarly, Bodawerk faced supply chain problems and had difficulties in accessing the materials needed. But also, apart from the pandemic, challenges are part of every entrepreneurial endeavor. Whether it be products that are too expensive for the target group or disagreements among founders, challenges are constantly being overcome. After all, the honesty and candidness seen of entrepreneurs in this mid-term epMentoring meeting talking frankly about difficulties, sensitive topics, and failure is always empowering and creates a sense of “being in this together”.
Arguably the most impactful aspect of the epMentoring meeting was that it was an open forum for discussion which is important in peer-to-peer ecosystems. One learning for many organizations was that it is ok to ask for help. Admitting that one cannot reach all communities alone and, therefore, taking partners on board, or hiring an expert for technical consultancy turned out to be extremely valuable and efficient for EOS International and Nonspec, for example.
Of note, two organizations experienced increased robustness by shifting to more stable markets. Another valuable learning that came from becoming more robust – also useful in many contexts – is simplification. In Bodawerk’s case, the simplification of operations, their financial plan, and supply chain, as well as a stronger focus on their core values, proved to be incredibly valuable to the team. Lastly, MakaPads went through a transition from being an NGO to a social business which brought on a whole new set of learnings. No doubt, they’re in good company to deepen their understanding in this regard within the epMentoring program and epNetwork.
After exchanging key experiences amongst the whole group in the plenary, taking the customary screenshot group picture, and summarizing takeaways from the session, all entrepreneurs were invited to think about next steps and achievements to be made between then and our final bootcamp that is planned to take place onsite with all entrepreneurs and mentors in 2022. Some key discussion topics included progressing sales, increasing product accessibility, structuring an alumni network and identifying geographic expansion opportunities – the mentor-mentee-tandems will work on all these together.
Having catched up with each other, we are now looking even more forward to meeting this inspiring group of entrepreneurs in person for our final boot camp, to deepen conversations, strengthen relationships, and, of course, have a good time with one another.
The epMentoring program is an initiative hosted in collaboration with our partner, enpact. The program aims to support entrepreneurs by creating a step-by-step road map to help grow their business.