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Knowledge Transfer: How Corporate Employees Can Help Build the Skills of Entrepreneurs through Volunteerism

Article by Alice Waweru, Regional Program Manager, and Elsie Njoki, Senior Business Advisor at TechnoServe
Côte d'Ivoire
Sub-Saharan Africa
23. Mar 2022

It was mid-afternoon when Bernard Nyamagwa logged onto a Zoom meeting from his corner grocery store in Nairobi, Kenya. It was the quiet time before the evening rush, and with few customers to attend to, the 25-year-old entrepreneur was able to focus on the meeting. What he heard would help change his business.

Like many small shopkeepers in Nairobi and across the world, Bernard struggled to keep good records for his store. The constant drumbeat of small cash transactions made it hard for him to track his finances and inventory, and that lack of data made it difficult, in turn, to make good decisions for his business.

On this afternoon, it was Caroline Wanjiku who greeted him from the other side of the call. An employee at Citi’s Nairobi office, for the past 20 years, Caroline has overseen regulatory reporting for the firm’s financial branch. She drew from that experience and expertise to explain to Bernard and other entrepreneurs on the call how to keep better records in their shops. 

The lesson clicked for Bernard, and he started to improve his record keeping. “I am able to keep proper records and do inventory management and this has reduced losses in my business,” he said.

This mentoring session was one of many provided by Citi employees as part of the Pan-African Youth Entrepreneur Development (PAYED) program, a partnership between Citi Foundation and TechnoServe in Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Côte d’Ivoire that aims to support young micro-retailers. The mentorship program demonstrates how corporations seek to address problems by leveraging their most valuable asset: their employees’ expertise. 

Online mentoring session
Staff from Citi and TechnoServe join entrepreneurs for a mentorship session.
Image: TechnoServe

With the growth in importance of environmental, social, governance (ESG) business practices across industries, many employees are eager to contribute their time to ESG and development initiatives, and they often have unique skills and knowledge to contribute. But how can we ensure that this kind of employee engagement effectively meets the needs of those it is intended to benefit? Here are three lessons from the PAYED experience:

Leverage technology

Since both entrepreneurs and corporate mentors are busy, it can be difficult to get them in the same room together. Fortunately, over the past 18 months, we’ve all become experts at using various videoconferencing technologies. Since the pandemic began, the PAYED program has been delivering training remotely, so it was easy for participants to take part in remote mentorship sessions. WhatsApp groups, SMS, and other channels can also be effective for linking mentors and entrepreneurs.

Match entrepreneurs’ needs to employee expertise

Mentorship must also meet the needs of entrepreneurs, so it’s important to identify which of the challenges they face could be met through mentoring from employees. That process of identifying opportunities requires close collaboration between the corporate partner, which understands the full range of employee skills and expertise, and the implementing team, which has a good familiarly with the most common and important obstacles faced by entrepreneurs.

Gather feedback and constantly improve the engagement

Finally, mentorship is an iterative process. It is important to capture learnings and use them to improve program design. In PAYED, we collect feedback from both mentors and entrepreneurs. This has provided us with useful insights about the timing of sessions, preparatory work before the mentoring sessions, and other areas where we can improve the mentorship experience.

When designed effectively, employee mentorship programs can add value to both the mentor and mentee. As Caroline said, “They are very good and a symbiotic engagement, where I learned as much as the participants did. The engagements and exchange of ideas were insightful and I love the engaging conversations.”

Moreover, for entrepreneurs like Bernard, the exchange of ideas can make a vital difference in helping them to create successful, competitive businesses.


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