Helping refugees get into business: the value of mentorship

Business Impact - Helping refugees get into business: the value of mentorship

Giving back strengthens the sense of purpose that should be at the core of a leader’s mantra.’ Entrepreneur, Syd Nadim, discusses the benefits of becoming a mentor and learning from those who, typically, face a great many more challenges than most

Refugees can often be a forgotten, neglected group in our society, particularly in the business landscape. Young male refugees, in particular, often face a negative and unjust perception, despite just wanting to live an ordinary life and achieve their professional ambitions like everyone else.

Being a business leader, I have always acted as a mentor to those starting up in their career, so I was overjoyed when the opportunity arose to coach a young man, named Mahmoud, in support of his ambitions through Migrant Help‘s Dream Academy programme.

I didn’t come from a wealthy background. I had a difficult upbringing and at 23 I was made redundant and faced extreme challenges when seeking a new position. If I had not received a a startup loan from The Prince’s Trust [a UK charity focused on young people] I wouldn’t have had the chance to achieve the successes that I have accomplished.

It is all too easy to be ignorant of the struggles and barriers faced by refugees wanting to get into business in the UK, so it was important for me to be part of the solution and aid Mahmoud with the skills required to help him achieve his mission in creating his window cleaning business.

Passing on business skills

My mentee, Mahmoud, has faced barriers which initially prevented him from setting out on his business venture. Some of these challenges have included access to resources, education, finance and professional networks. Despite these obstacles, Mahmoud’s drive and determination to upskill and achieve his aspirations inspired me greatly, reinforcing my desire to help those less fortunate to start working towards building their future prospects.  

Migrant Help’s Dream Academy enables entrepreneurs to pass on transferrable business skills to migrants wanting to enter the workplace. The scheme consists of one-to-one mentoring sessions that are designed to help refugees and those seeking asylum identify and take the steps needed to achieve their goals.

There are still many who believe that you must come from wealth to be successful and grow a business, but this is far from the truth. Psychologist, Angela Duckworth, hit the nail on the head when she said that all successful people had one thing in common – grit – and this psychological trait is often put forward as a key tenet behind success. Grit is essentially a mixture of passion and perseverance in the pursuit of long-term goals. ‘Gritty’ people stick to their guns and are unperturbed by any obstacles or hardships they may encounter.  Mahmoud had grit, tenacity and passion and just needed that helping hand to give him the foundations and guidance on how to start out in the business world.  

Why I mentor refugees

Mentoring has not just positively impacted my mentee, but it has also changed my outlook as a leader. Giving back strengthens the sense of purpose that should be at the core of a leader’s mantra, and I have found it greatly rewarding to play a small part in making a big difference. Business shouldn’t be solely focused on profit and it’s vital to tap into B Corp principles to ensure that you don’t lose sight of your intention and core values.

Mentoring also helps you to increase self-awareness and strengthen your communication skills. We can all learn from each other, regardless of our working title or situation in life. It’s also important not to get too caught up in work and lose your sense of purpose.

I have found mentoring to be rewarding and it feels amazing to positively transform someone’s life and help them start to achieve their career ambitions. Everyone deserves opportunity and refugees typically face more challenges than the average person, so I am keen to encourage and inspire other people in senior positions to dedicate a small amount of their time to be a part of the solution.  

The current cost of living crisis in the UK has presented further hardships for people wanting to start working towards achieving their business dreams, so it has never been more crucial for business leaders to share expertise with refugees to help them on this journey. 

Seeing the hope inside yourself

Oprah Winfrey once said: ‘A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.’ This really resonates with my aims and ambitions through joining the Dream Academy initiative. Far too often, refugees lack a vital support network and fall through the cracks of society when all it can take is some simple guidance to reinforce their self-belief and help them achieve the greatness they are aspiring towards.  

Syd Nadim is the Executive Chairman and Founder of UK digital agency, Clock.

Headline image credit: Chris Turgeon on Unsplash

Mentorpreneurship: lifecycle support for students and innovators

Business Impact: Mentorpreneurship - lifecycle support for students and innovators

Lifecycle mentorship that begins pre-university and continues far beyond graduation offers a golden opportunity to nurture ongoing communities of support for socially conscious entrepreneurs, says LJ Silverman, Head of LSE Generate

Business degrees often top the leagues for popularity among undergraduate students, with many drawn towards this subject area as they feel it offers the best guarantee of post-study employment. 

With enrolments onto business studies degrees likely to continue rising over the next couple of years, increased emphasis needs to be placed on nurturing entrepreneurial thinking among business students, so that they can excel in their studies and create impact in the world once they graduate.

To achieve this, fundamental support and resources, such as mentoring, must be offered in order to help students understand what is required to run a successful business. But this alone is not enough – now, more than ever, mission-driven companies are outperforming more traditional business models and universities have a responsibility to fill a clear gap to provide specific and tailored entrepreneurship training to early-stage social ventures to help them grow and deliver social impact at scale.

The mentoring lifecycle in action

Mentoring has been used throughout history and the expectation is that the knowledge, power and influence of the mentor will assist the mentee in achieving their objectives in whichever aspect of their life or work they are being supported in. These relationships tend to be longer term, allowing mentees to benefit fully from learning and developing over time. This model has been used countless times within both education and the workforce, as it assists in embedding the learning that individuals undergo.

In more recent times however, mentoring has evolved and one new approach, among others, is a ‘lifecycle’ model which challenges traditional methods of mentoring by introducing ‘reverse mentoring’, where a senior leader is mentored by a younger or more junior employee. 

Educational institutions are beginning to adopt more radical models that are more representative, innovative, and diverse. LSE Generate, the entrepreneurship hub at the London School of Economics (LSE), has created the ‘Mentorpreneurship’ programme, in partnership with OakNorth Bank. The programme seeks to engage past, current and future student entrepreneurs in a lifecycle of mentoring, helping to develop their businesses and creative ideas. 

The model is designed to facilitate mentoring across the participating groups: [secondary/high] school students will be mentored by LSE students, early-stage entrepreneurs can receive support from alumni entrepreneurs who will have access to senior innovators, who will, in turn, be ‘reverse mentored’ by school students. Peer-to-peer support is also encouraged and supported across all of these groups.

Each year, LSE Generate will also host a tailored programme of online and offline activity. This includes mentor bootcamps, founders’ retreats, one-to-one coaching, keynotes, and pitching practices, alongside a series of podcasts and audiobooks to connect entrepreneurs with mentors locally and internationally. With several international entrepreneurship chapters across the world, including Mumbai, Chengdu, Los Angeles, and Lisbon, with Nigeria, Shenzhen and Colombo on the horizon, the programme aims to create an ongoing global community of support for socially conscious entrepreneurs. This approach ensures that mentorship is part of the DNA of impact-driven companies and founder mindsets rather than something that is sprinkled over business plans at a later stage.  

The importance of mentoring

Offering a lifecycle-style of support from the early stages of a student’s educational career up until graduating from university – and beyond – allows periods of sustained and productive activity, where pupils are continually reviewed and able to adapt to ensure that learning continues and is relevant. This generates a cycle of constant nurturing and support, resulting in more prepared, confident and business-minded students entering higher education with an increased likelihood of not just surviving but also thriving in the entrepreneurial environment. 

In the world of business, the ability to overcome adversity and accept a decent amount of failure are essential assets and mentorship facilitates this transfer of knowledge and insight, potentially having a huge impact on the resilience of both a founder and their team. Knowing that others have been through similar situations and have come out the other side can make a lasting impression. However, this exchange can be threatened if the mentorship fails to continue to proliferate and evolve. This is why the lifecycle model is a more sustainable and fruitful method – there is always someone new to learn from and something new to learn, even in challenging times. 

Mentors can play an important role in an individual’s success, and many CEOs say they have received some form of mentorship throughout their career journey. A good CEO will know that the use of mentoring, particularly the lifecycle model, can inject creativity, new perspectives and ideas where a business needs it most. This can help create a sense of security for potential investors due to added trust in startups who are recommended by experienced peers and open to learning – both giving and receiving advice from others. 

Strong relationships with the next generation can benefit leaders and investors with decades of industry experience equally. Strong mentee connections can help mentors obtain a greater understanding and respect for the guidance they give, as well as new insights into how their own business ventures can relate to new ideas.  

The role of Business Schools and universities

Much of the resources that universities and Business Schools provide – including assisting students in making the transition from education to the startup world through career-planning programmes and mentoring – have grown in popularity as proven methods of supporting students. By offering mentorship at the early stages of students’ studies and careers, mentors are allowing them to connect, collaborate and receive as much support as possible, which in turn often results in increased alumni engagement and more significant prospects for future endeavours.

In particular, universities have a duty to advocate for the creation of more socially conscious startups among their cohort of student entrepreneurs, especially given the current climate in which we find ourselves. Socially responsible companies tend to attract employees who are eager to make a difference in the world, cultivate positive brand recognition, and boost consumer loyalty. This type of business is becoming highly appealing to both consumers and shareholders alike, accelerating economic growth as well.

However, to achieve these business goals, student entrepreneurs need to connect with an alumni network of experienced professionals for crucial contacts, insight and motivational support. Universities should engage alumni mentors to improve a student’s overall education and career/business planning experience. Through mentoring programmes and by providing startups with mentors, universities are more likely to produce a portfolio of successful student entrepreneurs. However, to encourage thinking that is truly impact-driven, confront biases and stimulate innovation, the mentoring lifecycle approach goes one step further by integrating reverse and peer-to-peer communication. As a result, it supports entrepreneurship as a viable means of driving local change and establishing long-term impact communities. 

The future of mentorship in business

Recent times have proved hugely challenging for startup businesses but have also presented opportunities to think about the type of innovation and support needed to make a real difference in society. At LSE, the launch of the Mentorpreneurship programme comes at a time when the need for human interactions and mentorship is fundamental – not only to navigate the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, but also to create real change for the future. We believe that entrepreneurship should be the great equaliser. No matter what challenges the world presents, or where you are based, an inclusive startup culture that benefits a global community can flourish with the right support, access and materials. 

For entrepreneurs, learning rarely stops, and to foster the spirit of creative thinking, mentoring is most beneficial when it starts from the early stages of career development and continues throughout education and beyond. Universities play a crucial role in advocating and championing support for their business students, especially those looking to pursue entrepreneurial careers with a social purpose. 

By pioneering social impact businesses, universities demonstrate the value of social sciences, as well as the arts and humanities, in encouraging collaboration to tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges – and the lifecycle of mentorship is fundamental to this, helping to develop these businesses and creative ideas even further for the betterment of society.

LJ Silverman is Head of LSE Generate at the London School of Economics (LSE). Previously, she ran her own careers and recruitment consultancy focussed on climate change. LJ holds a BA and a master’s degree in modern and medieval languages from the University of Cambridge. 

This article is taken from Business Impact’s print magazine (edition: November 2021-January 2022).

The importance of mentorship in business

Telecoms entrepreneur, Peter Gbedemah, looks at why mentorship is back in vogue and reflects on the problems organisations face in implementing successful programmes that ensure equality of access

Originating in Homer’s Odyssey, in which the tutor, Mentor, is referred to as a ‘wise and trusted advisor’, mentorship is an ancient concept and one which has recently returned to vogue in the British workplace.

Just recently, the New York Times referred to it as the ‘fabric’ of contemporary culture, and today nearly three-quarters of Fortune 500 companies have some form of employee mentoring programme. But there are also more practical reasons employers should be thinking seriously about mentorship, both in terms of staff retention and development.

Why mentorship

In a 2018 survey from UK recruitment firm,, more than one in four UK workers said they wanted a mentor, suggesting that this could become a key requirement for millennial employees, and for employers that are fighting to retain young and talented staff. Almost half (49%) of millennials surveyed for the Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2019 said that, if they had a choice, they would quit their current jobs in the next two years.

Mentorship is particularly important for mid-career female staff, as a 2018 FT article reported, quoting  Sue Black, an honorary professor at University College London’s computer science department: ‘It’s then that the extra boost which a good mentor can give you might well keep you on track and stop you looking around for easier options.’

This is especially true in the tech sector – a space I am intimately familiar with having spent nearly a decade in the c-suite of one of Africa’s largest telecoms companies. One of the reasons (but by no means the only one) for the sector’s high rate of attrition is its lack of mentorship support from senior figures.

Implementation issues

Barriers to mentorship range from lack of formal training of mentors to unrealistic expectations on the part of mentees. In 2013, a report by the UK government’s Department for Business Innovation & Skills (now part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) stated that the two biggest obstacles preventing SME employees from adopting mentors is the difficulty of finding suitable mentors and the issues some mentees encounter with relying on a ‘stranger’ for advice.

Many of these difficulties arise (especially within small companies as the government report noted) because mentorship programmes are not properly implemented. There are various models for mentorship, outlined by organisations like the Gatsby Foundation on economic and social development. Each organisation must find the model which works best for them.

Having had the privilege of serving on the board of Junior Africa Achievement Worldwide (JA Africa) for 10 years – a charity dedicated to developing the next generation of African entrepreneurs – I have had the opportunity to travel and meet a number of students, sponsoring a Ghanaian team through JA Africa’s company of the year competition application. I have also learnt that the most successful mentoring programmes tend to follow quite a logical structure.

First, organisations must find the right mentors. This is the foundation of any programme: ineffectual mentors will not be used by their mentees and the programme will never get off the ground. As a result, HR experts suggest mentors need to be found who are willing to give up their time, share skills, are engaged and empathetic.

Second, mentees must be found. The Gatsby Foundation defines the ideal mentees as those who are interested in their learning and development, and willing to seek help and share development needs with their mentor.

At this point, an organisation may want to look into establishing the correct mentorship model between the two parties. More ‘technical’ mentorship models (where a mentor imparts knowledge to their mentee) are better suited to working environments where learning set skills are important for an employee’s career development, such as an engineering plant. A more mutualistic style of mentorship where both mentor and mentee look to learn from one another is perhaps more characteristic of a creative working environment, or one where colleagues are broadly equal to one another, such as a business partnership.

Representing the under-represented

One of the big challenges for advocates of mentorship in the future is ensuring its benefits are felt by all sections of society. Data from a 2019 PayScale survey suggests white males are more likely to have a white mentor within their organisation than, for instance, BAME women (90% versus 60%). Although it could quite sensibly be argued that there are other, more nuanced factors at play which would explain this discrepancy, this is nonetheless a concerning gap which demonstrates that there’s still some way to go to ensure that all types of organisations have strong mentorship programmes in place.

Once this happens, the benefits for minority groups especially is considerable. For instance, the same survey found that BAME women who have a mentor are paid 5% more than those who don’t. But it’s more than just an issue of immediate financial gain. Business In The Community, one of the Prince’s Charities, states: ‘The plain fact is ethnic minorities who advance the furthest in their career all share one characteristic – a strong network of mentors… who nurture their professional development’. The experience of KPMG illustrates this well. In 2014-15, the company found that connecting BAME colleagues with senior mentorship figures helped drive engagement, a sense of value and, ultimately, career progression.


Mentoring is becoming a crucial tool in an employer’s learning and development toolkit. Supporting retention and fostering comprehensive social and commercial abilities, it has the potential to create a more dynamic working culture. Once the knowledge gaps around implementation and equality of rollout are resolved, we’ll be able to unleash mentorship’s potential, enriching the working lives of both mentors and mentees.

Peter Gbedemah is a computer scientist and telecoms entrepreneur with a wealth of experience he now uses to support burgeoning tech companies. Peter founded African telecoms business, Gateway Communications, which was subsequently bought by Vodacom (a subsidiary of Vodafone) for $700m USD.

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