Mowgli CEO Kathleen Bury

More than Just the Bare Necessities of Mentoring

A mentorship program inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book is offering a helping hand to Jordanian entrepreneurs.

By Rebecca Irvine

Mowgli, the central character in The Jungle Book, famously had a group of animal friends on hand to offer him help and advice.

A UK-based mentorship organization, which was named after the young hero in the classic children’s story, is now offering Jordanians guidance on how to navigate the corporate jungle.

Mowgli believes the personal growth of an entrepreneur is just as important as the growth of their business. Since establishing their unique mentoring program in 2008, they have firmly established their place as a key supporter of entrepreneurship within Jordan and the wider region.

With projects in 13 countries across the MENA region as well as the UK, the organization now has graduated over 1,700 entrepreneurs. Mowgli CEO Kathleen Bury is keen to ensure that mentoring continues to form an integral part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region, and says they are now looking to what they can contribute further afield.

How do you see Mowgli fitting into the ecosystem in Jordan more widely?

I think a lot of mentoring is a buzzword today. If you look at what our definition of what mentoring is—someone who tells you what you need to hear, not necessarily what you want to hear—that’s unique. You do get mentoring which is business advice, which is still valuable. But we don’t believe that builds the entrepreneur sustainably; it’s just a short-term fix. Oasis500, for example gives business mentoring. It’s valuable for what they are trying to do and we’ve had a lot of Oasis entrepreneurs come into our programs. We see Injaz, which is another player in that field, as sparking the inspiration for someone to look at entrepreneurship as an alternative route to the public sector. Mentoring is not a one stop; you need it for different stages of the growth. I think each party adds value and it’s about everyone making the pie bigger.

How do you measure the impact of your work?

Our programs last a year and that’s what we track. We look at the return on mentoring investment (ROMI). That’s the jobs created and safeguarded by the entrepreneurs multiplied by the average salary in the country in which the program was run, divided by the project investment. That gives the economic generation from salaries alone.

We also measure in three areas, and about 50 different areas within those three key areas. One is economic growth, and we do that through the jobs safeguarded. The second is business growth; we want to make sure that the businesses are not only successful but sustainable as well. The third is personal growth; how are we developing the entrepreneurs’ leadership capabilities so that they’re able and empowered to understand the decisions they have to take, analyze the scenarios and risks, and be OK with the consequences? They build themselves in terms of confidence but then start to have a business that people want to be part of—and have that culture of mentoring within their own enterprise.

How successful have your programs been?

At the end of 2015 we did a sort of assessment of whether we’ve achieved the goals we set out. The results of the analysis were so staggering that we actually had to get them verified by an external party. The MENA average was 890 percent ROMI. Jordan had a ROMI of 1,553 percent and an economic generation of $5.5 million as a result of the jobs created and safeguarded. It shows you have to have an ecosystem around an entrepreneur that truly serves and nurtures them in order for them to be successful.

How do you choose which entrepreneurs to mentor?

The entrepreneur must be one-year post startup. They also have to have a vision for the business. If they don’t know where they want to take it, it’s hard for a mentor to come in. The vision can change, but at least they have the drive. Most importantly, they actually need to want to be mentored, but then pass it on. They need to have the want to learn and then give.

Who are the mentors who work in your programs?

We now have about 950 mentors. The required criteria for a mentor depends on the program, but we usually say they must have five years’ experience, with about two to three years profit and loss management experience. Because these issues are guaranteed to come up, and if you have not felt the pain, you won’t have as much empathy. When we first started we thought it was all about the entrepreneurs. It was only about two years in that we started tracking data about the mentors, and we realized that they were gaining sometimes more from the leadership angle than the entrepreneur was. So now we have the whole mentor tracking side as well.

What support do they offer to their mentees?

We set minimum criteria of two hours per month. The first workshop lasts for three days, and that’s where we do the training and matching. On the final day we give them guidelines on how to set up a working agreement—we don’t tell them when they have to because it’s about empowerment. It’s their decision on how to design it. It’s an informal relationship, but the mentor is holding them accountable to the goals the mentee has developed.

Do you continue to support the entrepreneurs after the program?

We haven’t ever explored whether the mentees go into other employment. We track how many entrepreneurs continue with the business at the end of their year. 88 percent are still operational after one year. But impact is not a checklist thing—funders want 100 percent success rate but people are involved and personal lives come into it. We’re also not taking credit for the 88 percent. It’s down to the ecosystem, but we’re a part of it. We do believe that having the mentoring part and the focus on human capital from a behavioral standpoint further enhances it.