Imarisha Mentoring Programme: how mentoring can help entrepreneurs overcome the odds

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Kenya, and more specifically Nairobi, has a thriving start up and entrepreneurship ecosystem. The entrepreneurs in these spaces have access and exposure to diverse ranges of entrepreneur support  such as hubs, accelerator programmes, business advisory services, consulting and more. Despite all the positives, the challenges faced by entrepreneurs in the last 2 years have been crippling for many. In fact,  if you ran a micro-sized firm of 0-4 employees or a small business of 5-50 employees, the odds of remaining fully operational or just staying in business were stacked against you. Both local and international restrictions around the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionally affected small and micro-sized firms in Kenya (World Bank, 2021).

Shortly before we were in the thick of things with the pandemic, Mowgli Mentoring had been commissioned to deliver an online-facilitated mentoring programme alongside our traditional in-person mentoring programme, for the purposes of comparison and optimisation, as well as generating learning about the feasibility of implementing an effective online facilitated end-to-end mentoring programme.

The Imarisha Mentoring Programme

The Imarisha Mentoring Programme was the first ever entrepreneur-focused mentoring programme to be run by Mowgli Mentoring in Kenya. It supported 72 early-stage and growth-stage entrepreneurs based in Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa to better structure and develop their businesses with the support of experienced and locally trained and capacity-built mentors. The programme ran during the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic and revealed the value and impact of mentoring in an accelerated and glaring way. Given the precarious position of the businesses within the entrepreneurial life cycle, with many being within the Valley of Death (pre-breakeven stage), the Imarisha Programme saw that within the yearlong mentoring programme:

  • 93% of our entrepreneurs’ businesses were still in operation

  • 70% of them were able to expand their products/services

  • 53% of our entrepreneurs were able to expand into new geographies

  • 49% of our entrepreneurs were able to increase their business revenues between 2019 and 2020

  • 23% of them were able to access external financing

Tracey Shiundu an entrepreneur from Nairobi, Kenya, who runs an enterprise called FunKe Science, needed to pivot her services to avoid her business shutting down. Her mentor introduced her to digital platforms and provided her with guidance on using these platforms to continue providing classes to children. With this help from her mentor, Tracey and her team shifted to facilitating online classes. Because of this shift, Tracey was able to take on a larger number of clients, and subsequently experienced an improvement in her sales.

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While it is not their primary role, mentors can, where relevant, connect their mentees with their own networks.  Through these connections, entrepreneurs have been able to share their experience and challenges with their peers while receiving their guidance and even get sales which has been helpful in overcoming the dire effects of COVID-19 on their businesses. Our cohort of entrepreneurs emphasised the value that this networking brought to their businesses. Many stated that it had been instrumental in helping them to not give up, and giving  them a stronger focus on the need to think differently to overcome barriers in their own enterprises.

A major outcome of mentoring is improved self-esteem and confidence. Our mentees attested to feeling more confident in their ability to run their businesses as a result of mentoring. This increased confidence led to a range of positive outcomes on the entrepreneurs and their businesses, making them more resilient and likely to succeed even during a global pandemic. The entrepreneurs:

  • Became more persistent and perseverant

  • Felt empowered to go after new and in some cases different opportunities which were outside of their comfort zones

  • Found it easier to overcome obstacles in the running of their business



Mercy Munene is an entrepreneur from Nairobi, Kenya, and is the founder and owner of Shamba Connect. Shamba Connect started as a side hustle. The fear of the unknown prevented Mercy quitting her full-time job to give her business a chance to grow. Her mentoring relationship made her overcome her fear that she had of being a full-time entrepreneur and made her realise that she was not taking her business seriously or giving it the attention, it deserved. 

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Despite COVID-19, more than two-thirds of our cohort of entrepreneurs expanded their product and/ or service offerings in 2020. Some even went on to expand into new geographies, both local and international. As a result, 49% of our entrepreneurs’ businesses experienced an increase in revenue between 2019 and 2020, overcoming the odds of doing business amid global uncertainty. What they all had in common was mentoring. The mentees/entrepreneurs drew from the support and connections of their mentors and their peer network, taking advantage of business opportunities that would otherwise have been unthinkable if it wasn’t for the mentoring relationships. Some examples of the pivots in products and services that entrepreneurs undertook included:

  • Entrepreneurs started selling masks, sanitiser, and thermometers.

  • An entrepreneur operating in the media field expanded to provide online streaming services, for weddings and other events.

  • Entrepreneurs also expanded by diversifying and finding alternative sources of income to support themselves and their families. For example, an entrepreneur who mainly sold nutritional products diversified to start importing used household and electronic goods from Europe to Kenya for resale

The unique aspects of mentoring, enabling entrepreneurs to address their external and internal interferences, developing confidence, stronger leadership and the internal resources to better deal with any adversity, and  successfully pivot or run their business, mentoring helped the entrepreneurs overcome inherent business and COVID-19-related business challenges. Together, the outcomes of the mentoring relationships  ensured the strengthening, and in some cases, the survival (by preventing business closure) of mentees’ businesses, even despite COVID-19. At the end of the Imarisha Mentoring Programme, only 6.8% of our mentees were no longer operating their businesses against a staggering national figure of 75% of SMEs on a risk of collapsing during that period (IFC – World Bank, 2020). One of the reasons for businesses closures is a lack of tenacity and perseverance by the entrepreneurs in continuing to run their businesses. Mentoring reinforces entrepreneurs’ capacities (confidence, motivation, mindset and resilience) to cope in times of challenges and to recover and build resilience, thereby ensuring their survival.



Justine Owino is an entrepreneur from Kisumu, Kenya, who is the owner of Rhoi Creations, an interior decoration company. Before joining Mowgli Mentoring’s Imarisha Mentoring programme, Justine was considering closing down her business. One of the main reasons for this was that in order to continue running her business, she needed financing. In order to ensure Justine had financing to continue running her business, instead of accessing external financing (which she was unable to), her mentor encouraged her to look for ways to improve marketing and to think about approaching new and potential clients, those she had never considered in the past. By implementing the advice of her mentor, Justine’s business has experienced an increase in revenue and has also gained new customers.

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As we continue with our mission to build conducive mentoring environments across the regions we work in, we’re calling upon ecosystem actors and builders to invest in quality and effective mentoring as a complimentary entrepreneur support approach that nurtures resilient entrepreneurs who are also able to adapt to the ever changing context that our world faces. We believe that in order to help economies to grow and mature, it is imperative to develop and maintain solid pipelines of locally sourced entrepreneurs and leaders as trained mentors.

Get in touch with us now to know how we can help you incorporate mentoring to your programme , create stronger mentor pipeline or support your network.

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