Small Business Owners and the Need for Mentors

Micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises account for over 90 percent of businesses and over 50 percent of jobs worldwide. The global economy depends on their success. Known methods to support them include improving access to capital and easing bureaucratic red tape. But the value and impact of mentorship is too often overlooked, says Natasha Jamal of Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. So in early 2020, Mastercard collaborated with the non-government organization Mercy Corps to bring its free online mentoring platform, MicroMentor, to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, where Jamal is the Mastercard Center’s Regional Director.

“With MicroMentor, we hope to democratize access to social capital by connecting entrepreneurs with experienced mentors through our easy-to-use social platform,” says Jamal.

On the MicroMentor platform, entrepreneurs create a profile that explains their business, their vision, and areas where they need help. Likewise, mentors, experts from a variety of fields, fill out a profile that explains who they are and how they can help. Business owners can reach out directly to a mentor and ask for help, or MicroMentor can make the recommendation. Once a match is made, the two parties decide how often they will connect, based on need and availability. On average, a mentoring pair meets for about 1 hour a week for 3 months.

Mercy Corps first launched MicroMentor in 2008. Since then, the platform has facilitated more than 41,000 connections and delivered business resources to underserved communities in 179 countries.

According to Jamal, the Arabic platform was launched at an event hosted by H.E. Dr. Wissam Rabadi, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation at the Government of Jordan. Since then, she reports that more than 1,500 people have registered on the Arabic MicroMentor – over 1,000 from Jordan (more than 700 entrepreneurs and over 360 mentors) and the rest from other MENA countries.

Mastercard Center is working with Mercy Corps to accelerate the outreach to entrepreneurs outside Jordan as well, by leveraging Mastercard’s MENA network of partners.

“By tapping into Mercy Corps’ global experience and leveraging technology to help us reach entrepreneurs at scale, it is our hope that the MicroMentor platform will provide much needed access to the resources and support networks that many small businesses lack today,” Jamal says.

MicroMentor Stands Apart

Although MSMEs around the world have tremendous potential to create jobs, they also face some fundamental barriers to growth – namely a financial gap.

“In developing countries, this gap is at an estimated $5 trillion – this results in over 40% of small businesses having unmet financing needs,” says Jamal. “Lack of capital aside, small businesses around the world face a range of other challenges that inhibit their ability to grow, particularly a lack of foundational business and soft skills, resulting from a lack of access to educational resources and experience.”

And that’s the gap MicroMentor can address. Rather than operating in isolation, through one-on-one virtual mentoring, entrepreneurs and business mentors can make connections, solve problems, and build successful businesses together.

“What makes the platform unique is its ability to unlock ideas, tools, networks, and best practices to support business decision-making, which ultimately improve venture outcomes for entrepreneurs. Furthermore, the scalability of this model and unlocking the potential of volunteers as mentors from many sectors and fields, sets this model apart from others,” says Jamal.

Mastercard’s commitment to research and data analysis has proven that mentoring leads to entrepreneur success.

“On average, entrepreneurs on MicroMentor have been able to create two new jobs since engaging with the platform. New entrepreneurs who join the platform – and who run the greatest risk of failing within the first two years of existence – have also kept their businesses in operation beyond this 2-year mark, which further underscores the value of mentorship and coaching,” Jamal reports.

Role of the Private Sector

Increasingly, large private corporations and their foundations are realizing that investments in the social good yield better outcomes for all. Businesses can’t grow unless communities are thriving, and foreign assistance and international development programs alone are unable to solve the world’s development challenges.

For Mastercard, financial inclusion, empowering women, and international development are integral to its core strategic positioning. The company’s stated goal is “inclusive growth,” achieved through applying its best tools and technologies – and entering into partnerships that improves people’s lives and communities around the world. Contributions that support the health and welfare of all their stakeholders – employees, customers, shareholders, and the communities where they operate – also deliver superior shareholder returns.

Jamal reports that Mastercard is re-shaping how the private sector makes a difference by adopting a model of Commercially Sustainable Social Impact, or “being purpose driven in our work so that we can do well as a commercial organization, while also doing good and making a positive impact in the world.” Mastercard believes this aligned approach is not only sustainable but also scalable.

“Partnerships between the public, private, and non-profit sectors have great potential to impact some of the world’s biggest problems, but the approach to these partnerships must change. Engaging the private sector should not solely be focused on philanthropy. Philanthropy is limited in its scale and meant to be catalytic. Success will come from leveraging the private sectors’ philanthropic funding, technological assets, and human capital to drive long-term sustainable and systematic change,” says Jamal.

Timely Access to Expert Advice

Now more than ever, Jordan’s small and medium-sized business owners need support. These enterprises make up 97 percent of its private sector economy and employ around 60 percent of the labor force. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the economy was growing, thanks to a series of economic reforms aimed at stimulating private sector growth. So the early 2020 launch of MicroMentor in Jordan could not have been better-timed.

“With the outbreak of COVID-19, virtual mentoring and coaching has become even more critical for MSMEs to help them navigate the changing environment around them,” says Jamal.

About the author: Mary Jane Maxwell is a Lead Consultant with Washington Business Dynamics working on the USAID Private Sector Engagement Support Mechanism.