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Sunday, July 20 1997

Who finds a mentor, finds a treasure

S L Kapur

In the eighth century BC, the Greek writer Homer wrote an epic poem describing Odysseus's adventures during his 10-year voyage home after the Trojan War. While he was gone, he entrusted the care and education of his beloved son, Telemachus, to his faithful friend Mentor. Almost three thousand years later that man's name has come to mean a wise and trusted counsellor.

`Mentor' is used to describe a favourite teacher, a wise master, an insightful friend, an experienced educator, a seasoned guide, or a guru. A mentor is essential for achieving success in life. And in the world of enterprise, the need for a mentor is further highlighted, where a right advise at the right time can achieve wonders.

Mentors are the keepers of important traditions and life-shaping stories: they pass on the knowledge that would be difficult for a beginner to learn on his own and teach all that is needed to know to achieve success in the chosen fields. Socrates, a classic mentor, described himself as, ``a mid-wife assisting the labour of the mind in bringing knowledge and wisdom to birth".

Picture a would-be-entrepreneur pregnant with a dream. While his dream is in labour, the mentor stands over him and helps him relax and breathe through the painful contractions. The mentor assists to show the dream, the light of day. He holds the dream up by the heels and spanks it to life. Then the mentor places the-dream-turned-reality into the arms of the entrepreneur, and walks away to assist another dreamer (would-be entrepreneur) in labour.

Traditionally, Indian enterprise, particularly small business, has been the preserve of a few business-oriented classes and castes where entrepreneurial wisdom would be passed from father (mentor) to son. Marwaris, banias and chettiars are a few prominent examples of such classes.

Post-independence industrialisation and the dramatic growth of industry and business helped expand the entrepreneurial base and today we have more than 28 new small industrial entrepreneurs, besides hundreds of new small non-industrial business and service enterprises.

But it is too early to rejoice. A lot more small enterprises have to be created, particularly in smaller towns and villages, to reduce pressure on the land, to provide gainful employment and livelihood to the landless and marginal farmers and to ensure that people living outside the metropolitan cities are able to enjoy certain minimum standards of living and comfort.

Post-independence India has encouraged people to take to small business. This has to be re-emphasised. At the same time, efforts should be made to provide the rural youth belonging to weaker sections and backward classes, the opportunity to take to small industry, business and service enterprises.

For this, centres providing entrepreneurial training should be opened. Infrastructure should be strengthened and requisite software should be provided. Project preparation should be catered to during the training itself. Similarly, funding should also be tied up. For setting up and running their enterprises, the first generation entrepreneurs cannot rely exclusively on their entrepreneurial training, wisdom and experience (or inexperience!). Guidance and assistance is very important.

Earlier, mentor's role was exclusively performed by government agencies like District Industries Centres, the State Directorate of Industries, District Rural Development Agencies, and the National and State Small Industry Corporations. But the coverage of these agencies has not kept pace with the increasing requirements.

With the changing world scenario, the business-world is also changing; only faster. The speed has increased with the liberalisation of economy.

Therefore, in addition to first generation small entrepreneurs, the existing small entrepreneurs also need mentor's support to survive.

Since NGOs have set up guidance and advisory service facilities for some small entrepreneurial clusters, particularly those in the rural areas. Khadi and Village Industries Commission has been providing such services to rural entrepreneurs. Bharat Yuva Shakti Trust, set up by few enterprising businessmen, is an excellent and pioneering example of mentor service being provided to very small new entrepreneurs by senior businessmen. A similar programme has also been developed by the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry through its Small Industry and Business Helpline.

The Central government, recognising the importance of a mentor had in-built their role in the Prime Minister's Rozgar Yojana. Unfortunately, this was not insisted upon during the implementation of the Yojana. A major part of the project failures under the Yojana can be directly attributed to our inability to provide a proper mentor for each of the entrepreneurs.

Development of a National Programme for Small Enterprises, which is a national imperative, requires the organisation of a national voluntary corps of mentors. Besides government agencies, business chambers, NGOs, voluntary and social organisations and banks are also required to provide all help they can. It is heartening to note that two NGOs- Friends of Women's World Banking and Society for Promotion of Area Promotion Centres - working in this line, will be assisted by the CitiBank through micro-credit. The employees of the bank will also provide mentor services.

Priority should be given to senior working business executives and retired businessmen, while enrolling volunteers for this corps. The corps has to be decentralised to every district in the country. Effective linkages can then be developed between the District Industries Centre and this corps to usher in a new entrepreneurial revolution.

(The author is former industry secretary, GOI)

Copyright © 1997 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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