Various ingredients are required when baking bread, and no organization knows this better than the Pioneer Foods Group. Like bread, sustainable businesses are produced when the right ingredients are brought together. This is the Pioneer Foods Group’s analogy in approaching its Enterprise Development (ED) project. Ingredients are elements, and in the business context, these include an idea or business plan, business partners or beneficiaries, documentation (especially in the case of ED projects), tangible assets, and funding. Each business has variations in the amounts of each ingredient, but the basics stay the same.

The ‘salt’ in the mix of starting a business is Mentorship. When an individual or a more significant business provides Mentorship to SMEs and smaller companies receive Mentorship, it becomes a win-win situation with both partners benefitting from the relationship. While the SME will gain knowledge and learn from someone else’s mistakes, the individual or corporation providing the Mentorship will earn BEE scorecard points and build its network of suppliers while focusing on the significance and leaving a legacy. The mentee will also gain a different perspective on business issues and will be enabled to look at problems from a different angle. Having a mentor also provides that ‘someone’ to talk to, bounce ideas off, and know that someone is on your side, believing in you. Entrepreneurship is a lonely place to be, and Mentorship fills that gap.

Taking Mentorship seriously

To benefit from the many advantages of Mentorship, the mentor has to be committed, expect results, and help the entrepreneur stretch their abilities. Ellen Odendaal, enterprise development manager of Pioneer Foods Group, spoke at the Africa growth SMME Conference at Goldreef City in October 2011. She declared that, through the enterprise development program, Mentorship is taken seriously at Pioneer Foods. “Beneficiaries are chosen from the agricultural industry, which results in an improved value chain for Pioneer Foods.

Projects are built on definite principles and include the transfer of skills, good corporate governance and financial management, and leadership development of eligible beneficiaries. Mentors are catalysts for the development of new ideas. They transfer business and agricultural knowledge, analyze the original business plan of a beneficiary to measure the success of the intervention, and suggest and implement the necessary changes to the original project plan when circumstances surrounding the projects change. The mentorship program guides entrepreneurs through the pitfalls of growth.”

Meaningful participation

Lulu Khumalo, executive of corporate affairs and sustainability at Pioneer Foods, says that the entrance at Goldreef City is one of the significant variables impacting the chances of success of business support. Strategy and policies are constantly revised to ensure that ED remains relevant and leads to black people’s broad-based and meaningful participation in the economy. Sustainable development remains a focus in conjunction with increasing the extent to which black women own and manage existing and new enterprises, increasing their access to economic activities, infrastructure, and skills training.

In starting and building a business, there are many challenges that an entrepreneur has to cope with, including various macro and micro environmental issues, lack of resources, and multiple relationships. Through mentoring, an entrepreneur can be supported to cope with challenges and navigate around macro-environmental changes. An excellent mentoring program will encourage collaboration between clients and suppliers, assisting the supplier in understanding the client’s needs, improving communication throughout the supply chain, helping in the decision-making processes, leading to career development, and strengthening the quality of delivery from suppliers. The business benefits are combined with the effect on company morale, knowing that something good is achieved and an impact is being made of the success of entrepreneurs. Bonnie Jean Wasmund stated, “People will forget what you said, and what you did, but will never forget how you made them feel.”

“Mentorship is to identify with a person and help them have confidence and a high self-worth,” concludes Odendaal. “Entrepreneurship and, specifically, agricultural entrepreneurship, can have a huge impact on the stability and economic well-being of a country. Corporates must support SMMEs, and having the proper support is one of the major variables impacting the chances of success of a business.”

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