Mentor insights: the “Where the Rubber Meets the Road” spokes on the wheel
Mentor insights are the lessons learned by the protégé/mentee. Mentor insights are depicted as spokes on the wheel because they are the glue that effectively holds together everything else. Understanding your mentor’s driving philosophies is essential if you want to gain the wisdom that your mentors possess. There is a tremendous amount you can learn from a mentor’s successes as well as their setbacks. Mentors come literally in all “styles, shapes and sizes”. When you are away from home be sure to keep a “look out” for people who might have some business wisdom to share with you.
Places you can go to find mentors potentially ideal for coaching you with your startups include:
- faculty at schools
- town meetings
- management from other businesses
- religious institutions
- public markets
- near-by communities
- re-acquainting yourself with people you haven’t kept in contact with
- micro-loan recipients
To keep track of the insights that you pick up from mentors try keeping a journal of the lessons you are learning that are applicable to your startup. Mentor insights can come from a business executive or role model who you want to emulate. Mentor insights can also come from observations of others.
I was fortunate to meet a student named Jay Milbrandt while teaching a Social Entrepreneurship course at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management. Jay had recently traveled to Bangladesh and kept journals of his first-hand observations of meeting people who were prospering through micro-finance loans. I found these journal entries extremely inspirational and we hope you will as well. We encourage you to be on the alert for micro-finance opportunities in your country as a proven method for helping those that are less fortunate than yourselves. By reading these journal excerpts you can experience how those less fortunate are finding success no matter what their economic situation. Micro-financed loans are imparting a great deal of opportunity to those that really need it and transforming the economies of developing countries in remarkable ways! The following are excerpts from the journal of Jay Milbrandt.
The shear numbers are impressive. 1.2 billion people throughout the world live in extreme poverty. Accordingly, extreme poverty is defined by the World Bank as living below $1 per day purchasing power parity threshold. The United Nations set the Millennium Challenge goal of eliminating extreme poverty by the year 2025. In Bangladesh, at least, it appears to be well on the way. It’s easy to get lost in the numbers. But, when you travel through Bangladesh meeting the microcredit borrowers, you realize that behind every number is a life—real people and real families. Suddenly, the statistics come alive.
I don’t know what it’s like to live on less than $1 per day. I have, however, met enough people to garner some details about what such a life is like. Simply put, you consume in proportion to what you grow; when you cannot afford more, you beg.
Meet Meera. She used to live on less than $1 per day. Now, she’s a twenty-six year old business owner with two daughters, eleven and seven years old. Her husband walked out on her a few years ago, leaving her to fend for herself. In the culture of Bangladesh, she was in a very tough spot. To give birth to only daughters and no sons is unlucky. Likewise, for a husband to walkout on his wife is looked down upon even more. In spite of this, she became one of the most successful women in her village. Through microcredit, she started and built a large poultry farm, raising thousands of chickens and selling them to market. After showing us her farm, she invited us into her home, which was considered a nice home by village standards—four walls, two rooms, a cement floor, and metal roof. Her home was also financed through a Grameen1 microcredit home loan. And, best of all, she told us how happy she was and how microcredit changed her life.
Although Meera holds the distinction as the first microcredit customer I met, that’s the only number associated with her.2
“I’ve got this feeling of hopelessness,” I admit to a traveling companion. I’m here to see the hope that microcredit has brought, but our taxi has not even left Dhaka yet and I’m surrounded by the most abject poverty I have ever seen.
I’m on sensory overload. There are so many people that the country seems ready to burst at the seams. More than 140 million people are packed into this country, approximately the size of Iowa. In Dhaka, garbage is everywhere—in the streets, in the ditches. Its obvious that the city does not possess the infrastructure to service its 15 million inhabitants. Judging by the integrity of the city streets, which appear to have been paved once left alone, I’m not the least bit surprised. If the heap of garbage is fresh, a few people would be rummaging through it—looking for a meal, I suspect. If the garbage was old, it served as a bed. Audibly, Dhaka pulses with the sound of non-stop horns—there need be no reason to use it. Dhaka is also a city of smells. Every street has a different smell, many of which I find both unfamiliar and unappealing.
The streets are a labyrinth—if I were lost, I could never find my way back. We round a corner and roll past a lot of wood and metal. A salvage yard maybe? “Those are the slums of Dhaka,” our guide explains. Our taxi comes to a stop, waiting for a train to pass. After a few seconds, there’s a bang on the window. It’s a young boy, maybe seven years old, begging for money. He’s yelling in Bengali and motioning to his mouth with his hand. “In Dhaka, people work together in an organized system of begging,” my guide explains. He cracks the window and tells the child to leave. We start moving again and the child runs along until he can no longer keep pace.
Little did I know at this point, that over the succeeding two months, I would meet some of the most disadvantaged people in the world: the poorest-of-the-poor, victims of trafficking, prostituted women, refugees, and the illiterate. Despite their perilous circumstances, I’m filled with more hope than ever before. Why? The positive, successful change I would come to witness—and the great potential for continued change.
My hopelessness, however, would be relieved. What I saw in Dhaka was probably a piece of history for Bangladesh… Due to current laws, Grameen Bank is restricted from operating in urban areas.
I have hope because of Bangladesh. I wish I could have traveled here 20 years ago to experience the change. From the descriptions of the people I met, the change has been Bangladesh—a model for global turn around; the man sitting next to me on the airplane was convinced that, given ten years and right national leadership, the country could shine like Malaysia.3
How come I have never heard a sermon preached on the elimination of poverty? Christians frequently talk about giving to those in need or feeding the hungry, but I have yet to hear a sermon calling for a solution. Here is one to start with, I would like to call it “Microcredit and the Mustard Seed”:
One evening just before dusk, we were riding a rickshaw down a narrow road in the village of Salanga. Suddenly, our guide stopped the driver, had him turn the rickshaw around, and pull up at a small metal building. Inside, the building was dimly lit with an organic smell and the hum of a large engine. We met with the owner, Shameen, who had financed his small business through a Grameen microloan. Before Grameen, he had nothing—barely enough to feed his family—if that year’s rice harvest was plentiful. After founding and growing his business through Grameen loans, he started generating income on his own, built a better house, and could afford to send his kids to school. And his business? Processing mustard seeds.
Matthew 17:20 [from The New International Version, NIV, which is the English translation of the Christian Bible] tells us that with the faith the size of a mustard seed, we can tell the mountains to move. I took this verse literally with a good dose of skepticism until this day. Here was a mountain right in front of us: More than 1 billion people clenched in the fist of poverty. In Bangladesh and throughout the world, millions of people are putting a lot of faith in tiny loans—Shameen’s faith, ironically, happened to be a mustard seed.
Soon, the entire building was flooded with local people wanting to gaze at the foreigners. Each of these people was a microcredit borrower. None of them in the chains of poverty. This held true for practically everyone in the entire village, followed by millions more throughout Bangladesh. Microcredit was moving the mountain of poverty before my very eyes.
Deuteronomy 15:7-8 says “If there is a poor man among you… do not be … tightfisted. …Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs.” Is it coincidence that the word “lend” is used? I believe microcredit is a sermon that every church should hear. I believe that if Christians were to join the Muslims and Hindus of Bangladesh in the mustard seed of microcredit, the mountain would move much faster.4
The man staring at me has no shoes or shirt. This seems like the perfect opportunity to capture the face of the human condition in rural Bangladesh. As I pull out my camera he mirrors me with none other than a camera phone. I’m photographing him photographing me—something seems wrong here.
Earlier in the day, I spontaneously walked out into a rice field to visit the field workers. They were excited to show a foreigner how fast they cut, then give a brief rice cutting lesson. I just about took a Bengali man’s leg off—the sickle blade is sharper than it looks. They cut a few sheaths of rice, then tie the bundle off with one of the stalks. The whole process takes but a few seconds. Rice harvesting has been done this way here for hundreds of year. Occasionally, I would see a billboard for a tractor or modern agricultural convenience, but I never saw any of them in action.
Third world technology transfer is an interesting phenomenon. Is a cell phone really what they need? How about drip irrigation instead? Or maybe a rice harvester?
Grameen created an interesting microenterprise program throughout Bangladesh with village “phone ladies.” A woman in each village is allowed to purchase a cell phone through a Grameen loan. The “phone ladies” then sell use of their cell phone to other villagers. The result is that the “phone ladies” have a very profitable business and villages that previously had no phone line at all now have a modern method of communication. As traveling is difficult for the poor of Bangladesh, the villagers no longer have to leave if they need to communicate with a relative in another village or ask a doctor a question. In other villages, the profitability of “phone ladies” has diminished because a majority of villagers now own a personal cell phone.
It’s surprising how someone may not have running water, but own a nicer cell phone than I do.5
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