By Parminder Vir OBE

Over the course of my 40-year professional career, the mentoring I have received has played a major role in my personal and professional growth as an intrapreneur and an entrepreneur in my multifaceted career in film and television production, arts and culture, investment funding and more recently in philanthropy.

 While learning on the job, my mentors have provided me with guidance, counsel, independent support, insights and a sounding board, and have taught me the value of relationship building. Mentoring has enabled me to develop skills, gain knowledge and has strengthened my leadership skills. In return, I have also mentored numerous young careers and companies both formally and informally. From these experiences, I have learnt that mentoring is a two-way interaction and I have benefitted enormously from mentoring others.

Historical Origins of a Mentor

Mentoring is not a new concept, as I learnt while reading Homer’s Odyssey. In this classic story of Odysseus, before he left to fight the Trojan war, he leaves his son and his entire estate in the care of his friend, Mentor, who then guides the young Telemachus as he grew up. Mentoring is fundamental to the personal and professional growth of an individual in every society.

Attributing Success to a Mentor

 In today’s world, the concept of a business mentor has been widely embraced by the corporate, business, and public sector within the global workplace. Many successful entrepreneurs attribute their achievements to the support and guidance they received from a business mentor. Tony O. Elumelu attributes his success to his mentor, Chief Banigo, who not only provided him with his first job and guidance as he learned his trade as a banker, but above all, for his foresight that this young man had huge potential. Eric Schmidt mentored Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin; Mark Zuckerberg was mentored by Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs was mentored by Mike Markkula, an early investor and executive at Apple, and Richard Branson cites Sir Freddy Laker as being one of the key drivers behind his success within the airline industry.

Benefits of Mentoring

 Professional and Business Mentoring is still emerging across the African continent. African start-ups, early-stage enterprises and SMEs are still learning how to work with a mentor and need to understand exactly what business mentoring involves. At the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme, I placed entrepreneurial mentorship at the heart of the comprehensive Seven Pillars framework – a holistic technical and financial support programme for African entrepreneurs. 

In 2015, when we first assigned mentors to the 1000 entrepreneurs selected for the programme, there was much confusion on the part of the entrepreneurs on what they could expect from their mentors and how best to work with their mentor. For most, it was their first meeting with a business mentor!

What really should entrepreneurs expect of their mentors? Some want help with shaping their business plans – guidance with the business value proposition and business plan development, introductions and connecting with investors/funders, connecting with potential customers. The mentor is expected to provide deep business development and advisory support. This can be a huge demand on the mentor’s time, and some are ill-prepared to offer such time and involvement.

When designing mentoring programmes, there is the need to balance a formal and informal approach and to appropriately match mentors and mentees.

The Mentoring Effect on Economic Growth

Mowgli Foundation is one organisation which takes a holistic approach to developing mentoring programmes focusing on supporting both the business and personal aspects of the entrepreneur. Mowgli Foundation, founded in 2008 by Tony Bury, is a not-for-profit mentoring organisation for the Middle East and Africa. It is one of the few organisations which has monitored its mentoring programmes since 2008. They believe that this is key to ensuring return on mentoring investment (ROMI) from other support initiatives such as business skills training or financial investment. They advocate that mentoring needs to be the cornerstone of any entrepreneur-serving ecosystem or support initiative.

Through their extensive work and having trained over 900 mentors and matched trained mentors with over 780 entrepreneurs, the Foundation has collected data that shows ROMI in the form of economic growth through job creation, confirming that mentoring is an effective way to encourage growth and advancement. For more information about Mowgli Foundation and their mentoring programmes, please visit their website here.

In my mind, there is no doubt that mentoring is a critical tool for entrepreneurship development across Africa. Based on my personal experience of being mentored and being a mentor, there are enormous benefits of working with the right business mentor. They provide the much-needed role models for those embarking on an entrepreneurial journey. They can help you step back and look at the big picture. They will hold you accountable, help you set goals, develop a road map, and ensure you deliver on them. They offer guidance and ideas, push you to go the extra mile and above all they will challenge you during the growth period of your business. They are a vital sounding board, asking the difficult questions and guiding you in finding the right answers for your product or service. They will teach you the value of networks and how to leverage them for the growth of your business. They provide guidance, counselling, motivation, exposure, and visibility to their networks and much more.

Finally, in the words of Denzel Washington, “show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living – if you do it well, I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way. A mentor.”


About Parminder Vir OBE

Parminder Vir OBE has dedicated herself to positively impacting and transforming lives through a professional career spanning 40 years in philanthropy, entrepreneurship, film and television production, arts and culture, and investment funding. She is the co-founder of the Support4AfricaSMEs campaign and The African Farmers Stories, launched in 2020. She served as the CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, based in Lagos, Nigeria from April 2014 to April 2019. Prior to joining the Foundation, Parminder has enjoyed a distinguished career as an awarding winning film and television producer and private equity investor in film and media.