• Mentoring

Mentoring Social Purpose Business Entrepreneurs

Mentors are an essential ingredient for the success of any social entrepreneurship. Find out why.

What is mentorship?

We all have a general idea of what mentorship is, although there are so many applications for the term that a universal definition simply does not exist. There’s sponsorship mentoring, peer mentoring, developmental mentoring, remote mentoring, mosaic mentoring, training-based mentoring…the list goes on.

The International Mentoring Association defines a mentor as:

The critical role and responsibility assumed by an experienced, caring and wise mentoring participant who agrees to help, build a relationship with and facilitate the professional growth of one or more protégés. Mentors are role models of effective practice and of a very visible desire to continue to grow professionally, every day and throughout their career. In this way, mentors are models of the vulnerability required to share problems with and learn from others for the sake of continual improvement.1

Futurpreneur Canada similarly defines mentorship as “the process of offering personalized support to help entrepreneurs develop their abilities and insights as they start and grow their business.”

Mentoring is sometimes confused with coaching, and there is overlap in terms of the skills shared and approaches used. A coach, however, provides short-term guidance to help an individual perform a specific task, whereas a mentor fosters a long-term relationship with an individual to develop more general skills and transfer knowledge.

Who can mentor?

Any senior professional who agrees to lend his or her time and expertise on an ongoing basis can be a potential mentor. Whether you own a business or work in the corporate, not-for-profit or government sector, you can offer your expertise in just about any area, from management, marketing and finance to human resources, information technology and business planning.

To provide valuable mentorship to social entrepreneurs in particular, a mentor should have a good understanding of the types of business-related issues that social entrepreneurs face. Examples of some of these issues include:

  • Conceiving a viable business model that creates both social and financial value
  • Measuring and evidencing social impact
  • Governance and legal structures
  • Processes
  • Attracting investment
  • Organizational structure

Ideally, a mentor feels a similar concern or passion for the social issue that their entrepreneur is striving to impact. By understanding and relating to your entrepreneur’s mission- driven motivation for creating social change, you can create a solid foundation for a successful mentoring relationship based on shared values. Futurpreneur Canada suggests the following attributes for mentors of entrepreneurs:

  • Adept at relating to and empathizing with entrepreneurs and their aspirations
  • Capable of developing the skills of entrepreneurs to make strategic business decisions for themselves
  • Ability to maintain appropriate boundaries while providing valuable guidance during business start-up
  • Skilled at providing positive and constructive feedback and challenging assumptions as required
  • Accessible, reliable and able to meet commitments
  • Effective communication and interpersonal skills

In short, any business professional who is dependable and pro-active, willing to contribute their skills and knowledge, not afraid to ask the hard, critical questions, open-minded and passionate about helping to create social or environmental change is a good candidate for mentoring social entrepreneurs.

Why is mentoring so important to social entrepreneurs?

Mentors are an essential ingredient for the success of any social entrepreneurship. In the experience of Futurpreneur Canada, the chance of succeeding in business is much higher when a young entrepreneur is being mentored. In fact, Futurpreneur Canada entrepreneurs – all of whom are matched with a mentor – have a 94% loan repayment rate. Furthermore, research has demonstrated that:2

  • Learners that will transfer a new skill into their practice as a result of learning a theory = 5%
  • Learners that will transfer a new skill into their practice as a result of learning a theory and seeing a demonstration = 10%
  • Learners that will transfer a new skill into their practice as a result of theory, demonstration and practice during the training = 20%
  • Learners that will transfer a new skill into their practice as a result of theory, demonstration, practice and corrective feedback during the training = 25%
  • Learners that will transfer a new skill into their practice as a result of theory, demonstration, practice, feedback during training and in-situation coaching or mentoring = 90%

My mentor has helped me achieve my goals and overcome obstacles through meeting with me on a regular basis; creating goals and plans with me; then holding me accountable.”

– Melanie Breitkreutz, Be’ato Coffee Company, Futurpreneur Canada entrepreneur

The greatest value to social entrepreneurs is having a mentor’s input during start-up and the first two years of business development. Through mentorship, an entrepreneur gains feedback and encouragement and can learn how to overcome challenges that range from current legal structures and financial models to staff management and investment decisions.

Why is mentoring so important to mentors?

The most effective mentoring is a mutual learning and reciprocal support situation.3 While mentors help entrepreneurs sharpen skills, acquire knowledge and improve their business, mentors themselves have much to learn from a mentoring relationship.

Mentoring is one of the greatest opportunities in life…it lights the entrepreneurial spark to great achievement.”

– Jill Genno, Futurpreneur Canada mentor, ON

Although not an exhaustive list, the following are some of the key benefits that you can gain from mentoring an entrepreneur:

  • Enhance your career by learning about a new field or sector, or by identifying and developing new talent
  • Become more aware about social issues and the innovators working to solve them
  • Gain practical experience in social entrepreneurship
  • Meet people who approach issues from a different perspective and get fresh business points of view
  • Raise your personal profile across Canada or entrepreneurial networks
  • Enhance your skills in coaching, listening, providing feedback and modeling
  • Work alongside inspiring, innovative, motivated entrepreneurs
  • Contribute to your community’s economic development

As part of an assessment of its corporate sustainability programs, PricewaterhouseCoopers found that mentoring social entrepreneurs was a hugely rewarding experience. Feedback from mentors showed that they benefited from working with people from different backgrounds and using their business training in new contexts. Mentors also reported that they enjoyed seeing an entrepreneur’s idea develop and felt pride and satisfaction at having played a role in that growth.4 The majority felt that mentoring impacted certain personal development areas, such as awareness of wider social issues, job satisfaction and the sense of giving something back.

How to be a great mentor

As a mentor, you would listen to a budding entrepreneur and the questions they raise, offer advice and constructive feedback when appropriate, and offer both encouragement and pragmatic advice based on your own experiences, successes and mistakes. One of the most important parts of the mentoring relationship is building trust with your entrepreneur. An entrepreneur has to feel comfortable enough to divulge all of his or her needs, concerns and vulnerabilities in order to fully benefit.

At Futurpreneur Canada, mentors are encouraged to:

  • Meet regularly in person with their entrepreneur to review progress
  • Work with their entrepreneur to identify and reflect on specific goals and actions
  • Help their entrepreneur to identify other sources of support
  • Provide encouragement to sustain their entrepreneur’s motivation
  • Recognize and celebrate progress as it’s made

Learn more about Futurpreneur Canada’s mentoring philosophy.

UnLtd, the largest social entrepreneur network in the world, suggests some important tips to help maximize a mentoring relationship:

  1. Build rapport: before anything else, take the time to learn about each other and decide if and how you can work together.
  2. Set direction: determine what the entrepreneur’s needs are and set specific goals.
  3. Monitor progress: Check in regularly to see if goals are being met and whether progress is being made. If not, take time to discuss why not and be willing to admit if the entrepreneur needs other support.
  4. Wind up: Some mentoring programs run for a specific period of time, but the mentor or entrepreneur may feel that they’ve done all they can together before the program ends. Be honest about when it’s time to move on and help develop an action plan for the entrepreneur’s future.


  1. International Mentoring Association. Mentoring Glossary. Retrieved on October 9, 2012 at http://mentoring-association.org/resources/mentoring-glossary.
  2. Joyce B., Showers B., Bennett B. Synthesis of research on staff development: A framework for future study and a state-of-the-art analysis. Educational Leadership (1987);45:77-87.
  3. International Mentoring Association. 2 Types of Mentoring. Retrieved on October 9, 2012 at http://mentoring-association.org/resources/best-pr-frwks/concept-fndn-frwks/2-types-m/.
  4. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. Corporate sustainability lessons learned. The business benefits of mentoring social entrepreneurs, 2011.