The most awaited ASEAN Business and Investment Summit kicked off yesterday, November 12, 2017, with the launch of a first-of-its-kind mentorship program that will see hundreds of academicians, entrepreneurs and business practitioners from the ASEAN region mentor micro and small enterprises (MSMEs). At this time, there are 143 pioneer mentors with the Philippines having over 50 pioneer mentors.
The ASEAN Mentorship for Entrepreneurs Network (AMEN) is a flagship program of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN BAC) and was conceptualized under the Philippines’ ASEAN BAC chairmanship headed by Jose Maria Concepcion III. The program, which grew from a Go Negosyo initiative to an ASEAN one, aims to empower MSMEs by providing them greater opportunities locally and within the ASEAN region.
Money, market, and mentorship are the three pillars that form AMEN. Money, because entrepreneurs will always need to be linked to sources of funding; Market, because connectivity is crucial and includes not only roads and bridges but connectivity in the digital space and access to regional and global supply chains; and Mentorship, because the guidance and advice by mentors to their mentee-entrepreneurs is an important key to their success.
Statistics have shown that 99.6% of businesses registered in the Philippines are micro, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and they employ 70% of the labor force in the country. The same can be said of other ASEAN member nations where SMEs form the majority of businesses registered. Many of these micro and small entrepreneurs have not finished college or even high school. Their limited formal education means that they would need experienced advisers. And, being the larger base of businesses in their respective countries, it is important that SMEs succeed if their country is to succeed. Mentorship can go a long way by helping such micro entrepreneurs move up from micro entrepreneurs to become small-, medium-, or even large-scale entrepreneurs.
AMEN is a public-private partnership platform. Its vision is to rapidly scale up the MSMEs by matching them with a mentor.
Noemi Dado and I had the unique chance to be individually mentored under the Cherie Blair Foundation’s Mentoring Women in Business Programme. I personally know how important mentoring is for aspiring and struggling entrepreneurs and I am happy this mentorship program is being started by the ASEAN BAC.
Based on my one-year exposure to mentorship, I can see a few things that would ensure AMEN succeeds and is sustainable.
- Strict selection process for mentors and mentees – The selection of both the mentor and the mentee is a crucial ingredient because the mindset of both parties is important. It is not as important for a mentor to be the CEO of the corporation; rather, it is more important that the mentor is willing to give his/her time and effort to share knowledge and experience with his mentee. Likewise, the mindset of a potential mentee has to be one with a willingness to learn new things, to sacrifice time for the mentorship period because new learnings would also entail some study time, and an openness to corrections and suggestions by the mentor.
- Effective matching program – It is just as important to match the RIGHT mentor with the RIGHT mentee. In a multi-cultural setting such as ASEAN, there are different factors that can make a great match for mentor-mentee but there are challenges too. Having a mentor in the SAME or SIMILAR INDUSTRY as the mentee is important as there is direct mentor understanding of the challenges the mentee is faced with. Initially, I think mentoring will be among mentor-mentees from the same country but eventually, cross-cultural mentorship could also give the mentee a broader perspective of regional opportunities which his mentor can point out to him.
- Speedy and affordable internet access for the mentees – Realistically, the most effective way for mentors and mentees to keep in constant touch is through the internet. It can be logistically difficult for a mentor to regularly visit his mentee or vice versa. In my case, since my mentor was based in the United Kingdom, our means of communication were Skype and emails. The time difference was often a challenge but this won’t be as much of a problem within ASEAN since the time zones here are not far apart. The challenge lies with mentees who may be located far from internet access points. I hope AMEN can be integrated into, and considered in, the National Broadband Plan, so that internet access, even if it is only at the barangay level, can facilitate this mentor-mentee continuing communication.
- Comprehensive knowledge database accessible to current and graduated mentees – The wealth of knowledge and experience from the country’s largest corporations and its managerial pool cannot be underestimated. AMEN’s training modules can capture all this and store them in a knowledge database, accessible online to current and graduate mentees. I am out of the Cherie Blair Foundation mentorship program already but I continue to have access to my mentorship program’s various documents in its knowleqdge database as well as to regular training webinars being conducted. I have access to tools and information any time I need it even if I no longer have a mentor.
- Relationship building with an entire network of mentors and mentees – The post-mentorship phase is important for sustainability. I still have an active account in my mentorship program. All current and past mentees (as well as mentors, I believe) are in the same online community. I can post any question or ask for recommendations on the online forum and anyone from the community can respond to me.
- Pay it forward – Graduates of the mentorship program can be tapped to be future mentors or resource mentees as well. This is one way of ensuring the pool of mentors is kept fresh and full.
I wish ASEAN BAC, its mentors, and mentees all the luck and hope to see AMEN’s vision fulfilled not only in the Philippines but within the ASEAN region.