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Why gaining a mentor should be on top of your to-do list as a young social entrepreneur

By Marte Hellema, Youth Co:Lab,


For young social entrepreneurs just starting on their entrepreneurial journey, there is a lot at stake. They have dreams of making the world a better place, are most often constrained by a limited budget and commonly work with little technical knowledge of how to run a business. The urgency of the challenges they are trying to address, whether related to climate change, mental health or inequality add another layer of pressure. Help to get them ahead is very welcome. Gaining a knowledgeable and inspiring mentor therefore is and should be on top of their to-do list.


Learning should be a life-long commitment for us all. But for young startups, having a mentor who knows the ropes, who understands your predicaments and functions as a sounding board in times of uncertainty can be the difference between making or breaking it.


To begin with, having a mentor offers the opportunity to learn from someone who understands the challenges as their advice can help to avoid costly mistakes. Obviously, everyone makes mistakes, and often these mistakes are an opportunity for learning. But in the testing journey that is starting your own business avoiding unnecessary pitfalls because someone else has made those mistakes already and has learned from them, can allow young entrepreneurs to focus on the other hurdles still in play.

“If you are driving on a dark road and following a car with its headlights on, it’s easier. (…) Mentorship is so key,” shared Esmeralda Lo Tam, founder of EI8HT SPORTS and participant in Youth Co:Lab's mentorship programming from Samoa.


Additionally, once a relationship of trust has been developed, mentors come with a network of connections and an array of opportunities that would be hard to attain for a newcomer. Mentors, already established in their field know people, frequently hear of opportunities and sit on a wealth of knowledge and expertise that only come with years of experience.


Particularly once a mentor and a mentee get to know each other and truly understand what challenges a young entrepreneur face, these connections and opportunities can be used to support the growth and expansion of their business.

“Because of Youth Co:Lab, LineCare was able to receive proper mentorship from a pool of experts and who helped us build our network. Of course, the startups of Youth Co:Lab, which are often showcased in their programs, inspired us to continue with our work despite the difficulties that we had during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Patricia Allhen Marie ‘Pam’ Catu from the LineCare team in the Philippines.


Perhaps most importantly of all, a mentor can function as a source of inspiration and hope. A physical manifestation of the belief that it is possible to succeed, to realize your dreams and to make a difference. Someone to say words of encouragement in those many instances where the challenges seem insurmountable and fatigue kicks in. A person to cheer you on, not just because they want you to succeed, but because they know you can, because they did it too.

The failure rate among young social entrepreneurs is high. And this is not surprising, as it is a tough path to choose. But having a knowledgeable, experienced mentor, who knows and understands your needs can make a world of difference.


That is why Youth Co:Lab, an initiative co-created in 2017 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Citi Foundation, has been prioritizing mentorship in its array of startup support programmes. Youth Co:Lab’s goal is to ensure that more startups succeed, produce strong results, and create positive change. Through partnering them with mentors from Citi, the Cherie Blair Foundation, Google, CVC Capital Partners and many other industry experts, we have done just that.

However, based on our experience and observations working with and supporting young entrepreneurs we have noticed that there are still some gaps and challenges. That is why we are currently designing a new Youth Co:Lab Champion Mentors programme, which will connect young social entrepreneurs with successful business leaders from their own countries. We will be launching this new mentorship opportunity soon.


As Youth Co:Lab we are constantly trying to improve and expand our offers to support young entrepreneurs in the Asia-Pacific region realize their dreams. In our experience, and that of the many partners and industry experts we work with, mentorship is crucial to do just that. And when we get it right, it ends up being an enriching experience for everyone involved, not just for the startups themselves.


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Co-created in 2017 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Citi Foundation, Youth Co:Lab aims to establish a common agenda for countries in the Asia-Pacific region to empower and invest in youth so that they can accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through leadership, social innovation and entrepreneurship. Read more about Youth Co:Lab here.


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