By Amanda Ruiz.
I was doing some LinkedIn ‘stalking’ of someone I wanted to get in touch with a few years ago as I had seen her speak at an event and I happened to notice that her profile included these four very powerful words: ‘Cherie Blair Foundation Mentor’.
They made me sit up and think “Wow, I wonder what that is all about? I would love to have a go!” Plus I was running a boutique PR agency at the time and thought that some of my clients would also be interested in applying as it would give them a very enrichening experience and also the kudos of having on their email signatures: Cherie Blair Foundation Mentor.
So I set about researching what the whole application process involved. In a nutshell, you have to be able to voluntarily commit to a whole year to your mentee. You are to speak to him/her twice a month via Skype, so this may put some people off with the time commitments.
I love mentoring and I jumped at the chance for the challenge to apply. I knew that I would have to be really disciplined and ensure that I was always available at the agreed time slots. It is unpaid, so you really are volunteering your time, but what you get back is incredible.
The application process is quite involved – you have to watch a series of videos (2.5 hours in total) which have accompanying worksheets and at the end you are given an online exam that you have to sit and either pass or fail. Eeek – that too could be enough to put you off! I thought my last exam was when I was at Poly – remember that institution? Now they are called highfalutin universities; well I am out and proud as an Oxford Poly graduate, and I have never claimed to go to Oxford Uni – wasn’t quite up to the grade for that!!! 😉
Anyway, back to the process. If you feel that you have something to ‘give back’ or a skill you’d like to share with someone else in the world in order to help them grow their business, then go for it!
I speak Spanish so was really keen to be set up with someone in Latin America. I had visions of a virtual fiesta every two weeks, I could (selfishly) keep up my Spanish whilst giving the mentoring and it would be a win win! They could learn from my eventful entrepreneurial journey and I could give them marketing and PR training at the same time.
So I duly did the groundwork, took the test and amazingly passed! The next step is to wait with baited breath for your mentee match.
Finally the day came when I was to (virtually) meet my mentee who came from a different continent altogether…Asia. My new mentee was an interior designer from Pakistan. I was slightly disappointed as I was hoping for the Spanish connection, but my mentee, Humaira was even MORE disappointed as she had been hoping to be matched with someone from her neck of the woods. She wondered aloud how a woman from England could possibly understand anything about her culture, her business and her needs.
So we started off on a rather unstable footing in our first ‘Meet Your Mentee’ session. I was quick to allay her fears as thankfully I have traveled widely with my mother’s bead business (Janet Coles Beads) and visits to India, Nepal, Morocco, Peru, The Philippines, Vietnam, Kenya, to name a few, were all really good cultural training grounds for me.
I also speak a smattering of Urdu (well around 5 phrases) as a very good friend at Poly is Pakistani, so after a few: Ke se ho’s? (how are you?)…Ab ka nam kia hey? (What is your name?) Meera nam Amanda he (my name is Amanda) we soon settled in and I learnt about her experiences as a businesswoman in a man’s world in Pakistan.
Her previous mentor had been a man in India who had totally given her the wrong advice so I think she saw that maybe our pairing would work out. It really worked out for the best as we established such a good relationship, we both looked forward to our calls and I loved the feeling of being able to help someone so far away in such a different culture. In the end, after many months
together she told me that she was flooded with work as a result of our brainstorming and problem solving.
On the cultural side, I was fascinated why she would wear a headscarf when it was just me and her on the Skype call. So in my usual direct way, I asked her, and Humaira’s response was that she didn’t wear a headscarf in the house, but she would if she had to answer the door, and in response to my question, she said it could be possible that my husband could unexpectedly come into my office, which he did on one occasion!
I met her daughters on the calls and got a really good sense of life in Pakistan. Humaira is a very inspiring and motivated interior designer and I am honoured to have mentored her for the year.
We actually met up in London when she came over which was wonderful, and guess what her gift to me was? A scarf. She even got my colours right – turquoise and pink! What a good eye!
Here’s what Humaira had to say about the experience:
“Amanda’s knowledge of cultures as different as India, Peru, Nepal and Vietnam was put to use by her in suggesting solutions to my problems. Together we sifted through the many options that were swirling in my head and made a list in order of priority to tap them systematically and step-by-step. A few short months down the road, confusion found order and voilà! I managed to break through to what I needed thanks to her advice and I am now flooded with work! Thank you Amanda and God speed.”
The experience of being a mentor has opened doors for me and given me more credibility. Here’s a link to the programme.
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Amanda Ruiz is a PR specialist. She discovered the power of PR in her 20s working for her mother’s business, Janet Coles Beads. She teaches entrepreneurs how to generate their own press coverage so they can be the visible expert in their field, reaching new clients through press exporsure. You can find out more about her on her website and on Twitter and Facebook,