Skills for Life: Mentorship Capacity Building to Support New Businesses

Labour market insertion
“I always thought to be considered a mentor, I had to have a professional degree from an established institution and vast knowledge on the discussion topic. The mentorship training initiative organised by the Skills for Life project changed how I perceived coaching and mentorship,” declared Abdalla Yahya.

Abdalla is a Community - Based Trainer (CBT) and one of the 15 participants who took part in a 6-week online training programme to develop mentoring skills. The course sought to capacitate Community - Based Trainers and Project Assistants with the skills required to guide and support the Skills for Life project beneficiaries who have transitioned from learning groups to entrepreneurship, either as an individual or as part of business groups.

Abdalla (right) mentors two members of a business group

The pandemic revealed challenges in skills development and entrepreneurship

study by the World Bank Group and UNHCR on ‘Understanding the socioeconomic conditions of refugees in Kakuma camp, Kenya’ conducted between May and June 2020 revealed that the Covid-19 pandemic did not only expose challenges in the healthcare systems but also in the education sector and the overall performance of businesses. With the nationwide lockdown and the restrictions of persons going in and out of the Kakuma refugee camp, nearly no learning was taking place due to the poor internet penetration and inaccessibility to technology-mediated learning. Results from the research indicated that the employment rate of camp refugees fell to an alarmingly low of 6% while the national employment rate fell to 51%. Among self-employed camp refugees, 92% experienced a decline in business revenue.

Adapting to the changed circumstances

The Skills for Life project noticed the gap and realised its beneficiaries needed support to adjust to the ‘new normal’. It partnered with Mowgli Mentoring to empower representatives who would then guide these micro, small and medium-sized businesses that were struggling to survive and thrive. The Skills for Life project facilitates low-cost, market-driven skills training for youth to increase their living income. Mentorship plays a key role in supporting the long-term sustainability of the project since successful entrepreneurs can unlock their potential using their newly acquired skills and become less dependent on humanitarian aid.

The 15 representatives selected to participate in the training included 7 refugees, 3 Kenyan CBTs and 5 Project Staff. A third of the group comprised of women.

“When I heard about the virtual training opportunity from Swisscontact, I was eager to join, and I was keen to gain a new skill. The selection process was very competitive and incorporated two steps: an online application and a face-to-face meeting. I was elated to be among the shortlisted and promised myself I’d make good use of this rare opportunity. Initially, I found it strenuous to follow the sessions virtually due to poor internet connectivity and my unfamiliarity with the Zoom platform. Swisscontact and Mowgli Mentoring supported us in adapting to the technology and within no time, I was learning how to support project beneficiaries and help them make informed decisions that build strong and successful businesses,” explained Abdalla.

New insights

The training was very engaging and interactive. To fully optimise the period, participants were required to be present for a live virtual group exchange at least once a week and to put in at least one hour a week individually for preparatory work. The training was spread out to allow the participants time to start mentoring in their real-life context, share challenges that may arise and seek guidance from their fellow group members and the Mowgli mentoring team.

"I learnt that listening keenly and without bias to my mentees is a crucial piece of the puzzle. Without fully understanding their journeys and what they want to achieve, I will not be able to offer proper guidance. I also learnt that mentorship is about sharing knowledge. I learn from my mentees as they learn from me."
Abdalla Yahya, Community-Based Trainer (CBT)

The mentoring process

“It is important to brainstorm and discuss possible solutions to challenges they face but not to make the final decision for them. They must own their business decisions and be aware of the consequences of their decisions. What I do is help them set out clear goals, define their purpose, understand the environment they are working in and reflect on possibilities in the future. Building a rapport and communicating clearly are also very important facets in the process,” admitted Abdalla.

The 15 trained participants received additional 6-months of support from the Mowgli mentoring team after the initial 6-week sessions. “This was quite important. We did not feel alone in the process as we were able to test the tools and approaches we were using in the field to support these entrepreneurs, give feedback and consult on best practices.” So far, Abdalla has mentored approximately 30 people engaged in diverse trades - electrical wiring, welding, barbery, beauty, and motorcycle repair. 

“I have always been passionate about working with people. This is where I get my drive to wake up in the morning and fulfil my duties as a CBT. I hope that with the skills I have gained, I will be able to support many more beneficiaries in their business journeys and leave a worthwhile legacy for myself in my community,” Abdalla concludes.

A mentee busy at work