Written by Nicola Savidge, Mentor for the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women
I first discovered the Cherie Blair Foundation programme on LinkedIn through a suggestion from Cherie. The Foundation was easily accessible however I was unsure if I would be accepted as a mentor as I work for a bank, not running my own business. In order to start, I did an online training and sat a short quiz and when passed I was really excited about who my mentee was going to be. I wasn’t disappointed and was matched with a vibrant hardworking lady called Riana who lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The Foundation pairs you with like-minded people, so we hit it off straight away. After working for a stationary store in downtown Johannesburg for many years, Riana took the business over from her boss and was working to slowly pay it off. She wanted to go worldwide but was in a franchise with five hundred other members and felt the pressure of repaying the financing she had received.
When I first had my meeting with Riana, she was armed with all of her paperwork. I asked her what was it that she needed to work on. She said the main problem is trying to break into a market dominated by large corporate printing companies, which were undercutting her prices. Together we worked on a solution to solve the problem.
A few months after our first meeting Riana’s turnover had increased and she was invited to give a presentation to one of South Africa’s largest banks to provide their stationary. This was just done in a short amount of time and one can only guess what she will achieve next year!
After Riana had her presentation, I decided to look for more contacts for her business. I came across a very interesting person called Michael Haupt, who now has become a mentor for the Foundation and he has kindly offered me 500 of his connections in South Africa. I am now discussing this with Riana to link with them to explore the possibility of providing stationary products for their offices!
One of Riana’s goals is to be a mentor herself, and I know she will be very good at this. I am currently being mentored myself by Simon Rosen within the bank I work for. I find his mentoring style relaxing and I followed the same technique with my mentee. Mentoring is different to consulting, you guide a person but ultimately it is their business and they will decide the choices in what they do.
The Foundation has opened doors for me as well. I recently entered a competition for change-makers who promote ideas on how to help the poorest countries in the world. I now receive emails from them and other organisations like themselves.
I have had personal ambition to write, haven’t we all, and after Riana was going steaming ahead with her venture, I thought if she can do this I can write as well!
So I enrolled myself on to a poetry master class with Philip Gross in Norwich. When I arrived, the room was filled with well-known writers, but I didn’t feel nervous and I mixed well with them. When the group began to read their work, my nerves started to set in, but I needn’t have worried because the group put me at ease; Philip himself said I had something, it was a great feeling! I will not give up my day job, but to have someone so gifted say that is a moment to treasure.
As a mentor I supported my mentee, but the mentoring experience also helped me with my own personal goals. It gave me the belief in myself and my own abilities. I hope to do more work with change-makers, like Riana, with ideas to help achieve a more balanced and peaceful world.
The mentoring programme has a forum where skilled professionals bounce their ideas off each other and has some very good training programmes which mentors and mentees can attend. Cherie Blair is very much for technology and how it can be used to enhance people’s skills. Financial independence for the women and their families is the main agenda for the Foundation and I work with some excellent coordinators who keep track of all the mentors and mentees.
As for my mentee, what can I say? She is doing well and flying high, encouraging growth and stability. If this continues to grow to a larger scale worldwide who knows what could be achieved!