The Mentor-Mentee Relationship

EXPERIENCE SHARING AND CONNECTIONS LEAD TO COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGES

The word ‘mentor’ is first recorded in history in Homer’s The Odyssey. Mentor, who is portrayed as a wise man is assigned to educate Odysseus’ son, Telemachus. Mentor is given the responsibility of the kingdom and Telemachus when Odysseus goes to fight in the Trojan War as a wise and trusted counsellor. Over the years, the description of a mentor has not changed much but the importance of it amidst the startup community has grown tremendously. An entrepreneur’s life is tough and unpredictable. Often, you are faced with many doubts and challenges. At times, entrepreneurs even find themselves roll away from one problem to the other. With this as a definitive situation that every entrepreneur encounters, having a mentor or two on board for a new venture can provide tremendous benefit.

At Rockstart Impact, mentorship is given upmost priority. The program includes hands-on expertise and coaching from mentors and experts from Nepal and the Netherlands, to guide local entrepreneurs. One of the core reasons that the Rockstart Impact Accelerator is working so well is that the entrepreneurs are constantly receiving new and different ideas and feedback from the industry leaders that are mentoring them but also from the other companies in the program. From extensive talks with mentors and other coaches, the programme has been able to best identify individual areas of expertise and actively match entrepreneurs to specific mentors so that the bevy of knowledge-sharing sessions can extract the maximum learning.

Ashutosh Tiwari, Co- Founder, Entrepreneurs for Nepal, one of the Nepali mentors from the program, feels that mentorship is important for two reasons. First, to help your mentee see his or her business and work from a different, if experienced, pair of eyes. And second, for an access to contacts, networks and credibility which you as an entrepreneur need but may not have. Tiwari turns back the hands of time to share his experience as a mentee with a smile, ‘When I was about to start my career some 20 years ago, I was torn between accepting a banking job in New York and a job as a social activist in Dhangadi in far western Nepal. My mentor, a professor of philosophy, advised: “You can always do banking later, for the rest of your life, but you can only do activism once!” Following that advice changed the trajectory of my career and life significantly and positively.’

Tiwari states that he has made many mistakes from which he has learned a lot. Being a mentor thus allows him to share his mistakes and learning openly so that others do not repeat the same kind of mistakes that he did. Besides, he genuinely wants others to succeed as such there is this element of vicarious joy of wanting to help others. To get a view from the other side of the coin, I spoke to Dipesh Khetan, Founder of Global Chemicals, one of the companies from the third batch of Rockstart Impact. Dipesh shares, ‘I believe mentorship is important because as a startup, we have limited information and experience about the various divisions of business. Even as an MBA student, I am just limited to the theoretical knowledge which is very different from working on the ground. A mentor guides us through their personal experiences and helps us forecast a bright future for our company. Khetan objectifies that apart from the learnings, his mentors have often helped him with contacts which makes his work easier.

When asked about the Nepali entrepreneurial ecosystem, Tiwari states, ‘Each business is different. As such, mentees should not ask for specific solutions to specific problems, for business problems are contextual. Instead, they should ask how a mentor thinks through a certain problem, and then follow and learn from their mentor’s thinking style. Once you learn how to think through problems with a range of mental models, you can apply that skill to solve many new and unfamiliar problems that come up in the course of your business.’

First published in The Himalayan Times, 19.02.2017

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