Following National Mentoring Day, held on 27th October 2016, entrepreneur and former ‘Dragon’ James Caan CBE writes about the important role mentoring can play in driving entrepreneurship among young people in schools up and down the country.
National Mentoring Day is a time for celebration and an opportunity to recognise and shine a light on the vital role that mentoring can play in communities across the UK. The initiative has a special significance to me in particular, given my role as an Ambassador for Mosaic, a dedicated mentoring initiative that’s part of The Prince’s Trust.
Mosaic’s mentoring programmes create opportunities for young people growing up in some of the most deprived communities across England and Scotland. The beneficiaries are often facing issues of low self-esteem or lacking a vision for their future.
Along with many other ambassadors and volunteers from organisations across the business community (KPMG, M&S and the Department for Work and Pensions to name but a few), I share Mosaic’s vision that all young people should have access to support to boost their confidence and help them realise their potential regardless of their background or circumstances.
I’m no stranger to the long (sometimes painful) but eventually rewarding path to success. After arriving from Pakistan as a child, I grew up in Brick Lane, East London where my father, having travelled to the UK with little English and no money, established a successful clothing company.
As much as I admired my father’s tenacity and relentless dedication to his business, I knew from an early age that my future lay somewhere outside of the colour, noise and happy chaos of Brick Lane.
Looking back now, I can see that I was headstrong and a little foolish at times. I can’t imagine my reaction now if my children announced that they were leaving home at 16 without having gained any qualifications. But that’s what I did and although I wouldn’t recommend it, I do believe that my desire to strike out on my own, to prove to myself and others that I could make it is at least part of the reason for the success that I’ve had.
My experience as a ‘Dragon’ highlighted the entrepreneurial spirit of the UK, but nowhere have I seen this shine more brightly than Mosaic’s Enterprise Challenge competition. Held annually, the initiative pairs volunteer mentors from the business community with groups of secondary school pupils up and down England and Scotland.
The mentors support the students in formulating a business idea all the way from initial conception to thinking about every area of the business: budgeting, turnover, marketing, staff, distribution and scale. The teams pitch their ideas to a panel of judges, with the best judged teams going through to regional finals and eventually the national final where the strongest six teams from across the country compete for real investment in their business.
The role of the mentors in the competition is crucial. Although teachers do a superb job equipping our young people with the skills they need to succeed in their adult lives, there’s no substitute for the insight and guidance given by someone external who is successfully employed in the workplace.
Organisations such as Mosaic are fantastic in the way they are able to integrate their mentoring programmes into the (already bursting) timetables of schools, helping pupils to develop their entrepreneurial skills, self-confidence and raise aspiration levels.
And what’s more, mentoring works. An independent report by NatCen Social Research into Mosaic’s Secondary School mentoring programme found the participants revealed improved levels of self-esteem and confidence as well as more defined future plans.
But it’s not just mentees who see the benefits; I often hear mentors say that mentoring has given them a sense of personal and professional fulfilment beyond anything they’ve ever done before.
I firmly believe we need to encourage young people to embrace a sense of entrepreneurial spirit from an early age. Of course not every pupil in the UK is going to become the next ‘Dragon’, but regardless of the career path they choose to take; self-belief, perseverance and ambition are qualities I believe all children should be equipped with.
Pupils today represent our country’s future and from what I have seen first-hand through my role with Mosaic, I think we are in safe hands. In fact, some of the would be entrepreneurs who pitched to me on Dragon’s Den could learn a thing or two from these dedicated and astute young people.
James Caan CBE