Stepping into her new role as Fellowship Director, Dr Nontobeko Mabizela, decided to immerse herself in entrepreneurial knowledge by learning from international counterparts and exposing herself to as much entrepreneurial excellence as possible.
A whirlwind tour of America’s East Coast with stops in Boston, Wellesley and New York ensued in December 2015. Her mission was threefold: to sharpen her entrepreneurial knowledge, to connect and offer support to expatriate Candidate Allan Gray Fellows and to seek out the best practice for running a mentoring programme.
In Boston Dr Mabizela met with Candidate Allan Gray Fellows and was surprised to find that they were already forming a small community – they knew of each other and were connecting independently before. “They appreciated that we were on the ground,” said Dr Mabizela of their response to her visit. The meeting allowed them to share their experiences and difficulties on the one hand and offer hope and potential solutions on the other.
Boston also proved an ideal location for sourcing support for these Candidate Fellows since it is home to so many incubation hubs for startup companies. Dr Mabizela connected with two such launch labs that expressed great interest in inviting the Candidate Fellows there, free of charge. Throughout the remainder of her tour, she would find similar offers of in-person support for the Candidate Fellows, be it in the form of mentoring or invitations to attend programmes.
One such offer came from Emzingo’s co-founder, Drew Bonfiglio. He not only volunteered his time as mentor, but also welcomed the Foundation’s beneficiaries to join in the training offered to pre-graduates, that is, young people who are on their way to the job market but who are not quite ready for it yet. Emzingo’s programme empowers young people to do what Americans call “climbing the ladder.” Their approach to leadership, however, can be described as quite African. “They align with us in that they focus on leadership that builds and seeks to empower communities,” explained Dr Mabizela.
In Wellesley, she visited Babson College to discuss matters of curriculum design and facilitation training – further efforts to offer on-the-ground support to the Fellowship Community’s expats. The team at Babson had already offered significant support to her colleagues with curriculum design for the Association of Allan Gray Fellows.
The three highlights of her trip all occurred in the big apple where Dr Mabizela was introduced to Endeavor. Here she found the cost-effectiveness with which their entrepreneurship programme was being run quite astounding. “Even their offices are modest.” They have an impressive monitoring and evaluation process in place and are able to track the progress of every single individual they have ever worked with. They also only work with entrepreneurs who were ready to launch their business. In contrast, Echoing Green’s offering to their Fellows, while much more lavish, expects them to do business while studying. They also do not make use of a standard entrepreneurship programme but instead tailors a programme to the individual’s needs. Both these organisations proved that there is no one way of training entrepreneurs. The only requirement and common denominator between the two is a rich knowledge base.
The third highlight and final stop for Dr Mabizela was the Mentoring Partnership of New York where she was able to attend a day-long workshop about managing mentorship programmes. The organisation is a government initiative in the States aimed at providing free support to the many entrepreneurship programmes being run in the country. An invitation to attend was recently extended to African organisations and it was an opportunity that Dr Mabizela had to seize. The workshop covered many aspects of mentoring, including how to recruit, situations to be avoided, what to include in a mentorship contract and how to structure the programme so that a minimum number of engagements are guaranteed.
Dr Mabizela was especially excited about how her new-found knowledge could impact the Fellowship’s Mentoring Programme in future. In essence, her whirl-wind tour was more than just a trip abroad; it was an empowering experience that is bound to leave an indelible mark of excellence on all Dr Mabizela’s endeavours at the Foundation.