Mentoring a million 'Grampreneurs'

November 9 was a landmark for start-ups in the country as the Government of India celebrated it as 'National Entrepreneurship Day'. Creating employment through entrepreneurship, especially at the bottom of the pyramid, has emerged as the single most important tool for inclusive growth. It is becoming increasingly critical, therefore, to provide an empowering ecosystem for entrepreneurship; an ecosystem not just for entrepreneurs in advanced technologies and big cities, but one that nurtures micro-entrepreneurs in small towns and villages as well.

Globally, mentoring has proven to be a key element of this ecosystem, igniting and promoting the entrepreneurial spirit amongst millions of young job seekers. A mentor is literally an entrepreneur's 'window to the world'. The marginalised youth often have limited or no exposure to managing businesses. They need formal training in entrepreneurship, better market information and technological inputs. A mentor provides these inputs, enabling them to turn their ideas into profitable ventures. The government's intent, combined with the desire of the industry and academia to quickly meet these demands, only enhance the importance of mentoring.

Amulya Sahoo, hailing from a rural mining town in Odisha, overcame all odds to set up a manufacturing unit for precast materials used in the construction industry. Amulya credits his mentor for guiding him to build his turn-over from a few thousand rupees to over Rs 25 lakh in just two years. Sahoo's mentor played the key role of business, family and spiritual guide, helping Sahoo build bridges across caste, education and economic divides.

Mentors play multiple roles, focusing on their mentees' personal and business development. Apart from imparting soft skills and technical skills, they coach their mentees to deal with specific challenges, share resources and networks and encourage them to break out of their comfort zones.

Lenin Burghain has become a trendsetter in his tribal area in Assam, transforming his bamboo craft business into a manufacturer of roofing tiles from waste bamboo materials. His mentor was instrumental in helping him build the business from his backyard right up to Africa. His mentor provides comprehensive business advice and guides him to successfully eliminate crippling dependencies on middlemen and reach the markets directly.

To ensure that the much-needed mentoring support is available to every youth who wishes to start an enterprise, lakhs of mentors need to be mobilised. Mentors from diverse backgrounds, having necessary business skills and located in the entrepreneur's vicinity can create successful 'Grampreneurs' -- micro-entrepreneurs with value chains spread across small towns and villages.

Given that mentoring involves a spectrum of responsibilities, mentors need to be carefully selected, trained and supported. New mentors are required to be integrated into the current ecosystem through a series of capacity-building activities. Over the years, the Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust (BYST) has created a system of online learning for mentors, with practical exposure to real-life examples, giving them deeper insights into how mentoring is actually being done. The trained mentors are also accredited through an international certification agency.

A piecemeal approach to mentoring cannot bring the desired results. It requires a committed focus across multiple streams and segments such as banking, development agencies, industries and education. A continuous effort at developing a mentoring ecosystem for 'Grampreneurs' is what will bring long-lasting impact and make a significant contribution to the country's economic growth.

Mentoring India, a flagship programme, was launched to act as a synergy to the government schemes like Stand-up India, Skill India, Start-up India and Digital India. The programme is envisaged to create a pool of empowered mentors at various entrepreneur touchpoints in government and private institutions and agencies. Roundtable interactions were organised as part of this initiative, comprising senior government officials, representatives from business and civil society.

Once a strong mentoring ecosystem is in place, we could expect at least the following set of outcomes: developing mentoring as a mindset to support enterprises all over the country; increase in the success rate of creation and sustenance of enterprises; and thereby, filling the jobs gap by providing direct and indirect employment opportunities.

Filling the jobs gap is something that cannot be achieved in a short span of time. It requires the investment of constant time and effort from several stakeholders. Even to fill up just 1% of this gap, tens of thousands of successful 'Grampreneurs' are required to be created to generate lakhs of jobs.

Prospective 'Grampreneurs' amongst the masses are aplenty. All they need are the mentors to unleash their potential. The power of mentoring has to be used as a catalyst to kindle the spirit of entrepreneurship, with a focus on the missing middle, mainstreaming the underserved youth and transforming them into contributors to India's economic growth.

(The writer is founding and managing trustee, Bhartiya Yuva Shakti Trust)

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