Forget the “Consulting” Approach - It’s High Time we Mentor by Listening

Forget the “Consulting” Approach - It’s High Time we Mentor by Listening

May 7, 2019

The ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes once famously noted that: “we have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less“. The act of listening as a means of truly understanding an entrepreneur is an important skill when it comes to tackling the challenges they face. More recently, management guru Peter Drucker said: “To improve communications, work not on the utter, but the recipient.” With our experience at the accelerator programs, we realised that the best mentoring sessions are with mentors that take time to understand, empathise and process the full context, journey and current set of problems of the social entrepreneur. Today it’s becoming increasingly important for entrepreneurs to have access to personalised mentoring, where a relationship of trust and empathy is established and this often means moving away from the traditional one size fits all consulting approach.


We have taken this approach forward and made it a core principle in what we do. At the heart of our accelerator programs, there are experienced mentors who take our social businesses through intensive 1-to-1 mentoring sessions. These sessions ensure that we’re delivering the most tailored value-added mentoring in the shortest possible time. Time and time again, when we ask our participating social entrepreneurs or our alumni about what makes our program unique, they say exactly that. This style of mentoring challenges the entrepreneurs to face uncomfortable truths and inspires them to be the best they can be and reach their full potential.

MAN Impact Accelerator social entrepreneur Noah Perin from VIA Global Health sitting with his lead mentor Dr. Lars Eiermann from MAN Truck & Bus and his tech mentor Stephen Morseman from Uber.

Since each social business requires tailored guidance, they should also receive a handpicked mentor who can best deliver success in their given sector. But how do we find and select our mentors? We start by looking at three important factors:


We choose mentors that have deep practical industry expertise. Our startups operate in a range of fields so the type of expertise they require is specialist, it could involve last-mile distribution, clean energy, digital services for farmers, or even….


We only choose mentors that demonstrate strong empathy for startup entrepreneurs and the realities they face, which means that they have either worked in startup, agile or resource-constraint environment.


During our onboarding, we train mentors to think in a “non-consulting approach”. Which means guiding the startups by asking the right questions instead of merely transferring knowledge. By doing this we establish expectations and ground rules and ensure they are taking a listening-first approach to develop our businesses.

Some of the mentors participating in the MAN Impact Accelerator program batch 2.

What exactly is the non-consulting approach and how does it add value?

Where the traditional mentor consulting approach revolves around fixing the entrepreneurs problems with a solution as the outcome, our approach is a two-way process where development and understanding are the outcomes. In this approach, the mentors are encouraged to take part in diagnosing their challenges and pitfalls.

This approach also helps our mentors focus on the real needle-moving actions and actually make a tangible difference in the social entrepreneur's path. Here are a few of our top tips that result in a personalised and non-consulting mentor journey:

  • Get a clear understanding of who you are speaking to: their needs, strengths and where they want to go.
  • Guide the social entrepreneur to a solution and highlight the actionable steps required. Don’t do all the thinking for them and allow them to experiment and learn for themselves.
  • Don’t be afraid of critiquing their work. Keep an honest, open and constructive communication and give realistic feedback about their shortcomings and roadblocks.
  • Open doors. Connect social entrepreneurs to new opportunities through your own network and introduce them to people who can help them grow – the people you help today could be the world leaders of tomorrow.
  • Seek to empathize with and understand personal issues that are restricting the entrepreneur from achieving his goal and navigate through these barriers.
  • Encourage sharing all failures and hardships by doing so yourself. Negative experiences are just as valuable as positive ones.

When assigning mentors with our social entrepreneurs, we ensure that each entrepreneur has access to diversity in their mentorship. Limiting our entrepreneurs to only a single mentor throughout the process would starve them of perspective and could lead to critical gaps in their knowledge. Instead, we offer a variety of mentors who each being a fresh perspective and unique skill-set to the table to support their development. In fact, our accelerator programs allow each of our entrepreneur to create their own board of 10+ mentors representing different industries, countries, backgrounds and even generations. Having such a diverse set of experts allows for a much richer learning experience and encourages an open culture that values what each person brings to the table. It is this variety of life experiences and points of view that help our social entrepreneurs reach heights that would be impossible alone.

Thank you to the mentors who are at the heart of our accelerator programs and our social entrepreneurs' success! It’s been great to receive all the positive feedback about the non-consulting approach to mentorship and it’s good to see that we’re moving in the right direction.

We look forward to working with you for the next accelerations to come!

MIA Spotlight: The Solar Powered Motorcycle for Africa

Find out how going electric can create jobs, increase a driver’s income, provide a lower carbon emissions transport option and revolutionise the boda boda industry in East Africa.

6 social businesses at the heart of the Fight for Access Accelerator in Nigeria

The 2022 Programme Supports Early-stage Businesses in India

“At Upaya, we have always focused on growing the enterprises that have the highest potential to create jobs to lift families out of poverty,” said Kate Cochran, CEO of Upaya Social Ventures.

Cookie Consent

We use cookies to provide necessary website functionality, improve your experience and analyze our traffic. By using our website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and our cookies usage.