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entrepreneurs

Networking 101

Networking is an essential skill that will help you grow and improve your business. Developing and maintaining a strong circle of contacts will help you connect with potential investors, partners, and skilled employees.

Networking can be done in person at different events or via email and social media. While networking, the first impression you make will determine whether you will hear back from that person or not. To make a great first impression, you should develop and practice your ‘elevator speech’ and learn to write effective emails.

Elevator Speech

Develop and practice your elevator speech – a short speech that describes you and what you do. The elevator speech should be no more than 20-30 seconds- as if you were to meet a potentially important contact for the first time in an elevator and he/she asked you: “what do you do?” you would have about 20-30 seconds to explain and make an impressive impact so that person asks for your contact details. Your elevator speech should be memorable, interesting and succinct.

  • Start by describing what your business does. Focus on the problems that your business solves and how you help people. Add information or statistic to show the value in what you do.    Identify what makes you or your business unique. What do you do that no one else does?
  • Ask an open-ended question to involve the person in the conversation.
  •  Practice! Practice your speech with a timer to make sure it is no longer than 30 seconds. You can practice your speech with friends and family.

Learn to write emails

You should know how to write a good email both during the ‘outreach’ stages of networking and when you have already established a connection.

Outreach Stage:
to develop your network, you can send out emails to people whose work you are interested in.

  • Keep the email short and simple. You have to remember; the people you are reaching out to are very busy and will probably not read a long and complicated email. So don’t waste their time. A short paragraph is more than enough!
  • Make it about them, not you! Research the person you are reaching out to. Learn what they are passionate about and what they are working on. In your first email, talk mostly about them.
  •    Find a connection: this could be either a mutual friend or an interest that you can connect over. Finding a connection will make you more memorable to the reader.

 Established Connections

As you build your network, use email to stay in touch with the contacts you have made so far. Staying in constant contact is often more important than making new connections.

  •  Don’t panhandle: If the only time you are emailing a contact is when you need something from them, you are doing it wrong. Networking is not all about what you can get out of your contacts, but also what you can give. It has to be a give and take relationship.
  • Send your contacts interesting emails: this is where your research comes in hand. Email them about articles or events that you think might interest them based on their passions. Ask them thoughtful questions regarding their business etc.

Lastly, you don’t have to wait for a special event or conference to start networking. Make networking part of your daily routine. Start by talking to your friends and neighbours about what you do. Chances are your neighbours know someone who would be interested in learning more about your business. So don’t discount the people around you!

 

Is "Innovation" more than just a buzz word?

Innovation. It’s the word that’s everywhere you turn, from business, to politics, to development, to technology, to education. Strike up a conversation around these topics and chances are innovation will get dropped in there at some point. What do you do, what do you support, how do you meet this challenge, how do you become successful? – the answer always seems to come back to the need to innovate. Indeed, the notion of innovation has become so popular, it has been labelled "the buzzword of the decade"[1].

But what actually is innovation? And is it really the answer to all our problems?

Innovation is more than just ideas

Innovation is more than just ideas

Innovation is referred to so pervasively that sometimes it’s actual meaning becomes obscured and diluted. Sweeping statements – for example - I support innovative social entrepreneurs – sound great, but what do they actually imply? Innovation is really just the process of coming up with new ways to solve important problems or surmount pressing challenges. More than just ‘good ideas’, the process of innovation also involves implementation, testing and refining stages to turn ideas into reality. Legitimate innovation requires tangible change.

When you consider innovation in this way, as a process of creating change view new ways of thinking, it’s not hard to see why innovation is so prevalent in the modern vernacular. More than just a means for corporations to retain their competitive edge, innovation represents an opportunity for coming up with new ideas to overcome collective global issues from climate change to economic crisis. Given the glaringly obvious failure of old ideas, innovative thinking to combat these problems is not just a nice refrain, but a strategic necessity. Urama and Acheampong advocate for social innovation; the development of solutions to social problems that are more effective, efficient and sustainable than current solutions.

They point out that “we are in desperate need of a fundamental transformation of social, economic and cultural arrangements. The old paradigm of government aid is simply inadequate to the challenge. What we need instead are creative and innovative solutions for fostering sustainable growth, securing jobs, and increasing competitive abilities”[2]. Innovation, when it involves action beyond the rhetoric, has the capacity to affect widespread social change. Fair trade, distance learning, renewable energy – there are many examples of how innovative processes have resulted in positive impact.

Geeks in Cambodia, a tech-news platform, has designated March as Innovation Month in Cambodia. They note that whilst Cambodia may not be the country that springs to mind as being at the forefront of innovation, innovative solutions are trending across the region as access to technology and education spreads. Smart-phone culture is thriving here, especially in urban areas, and one third of the population has access to the internet. This represents a real opportunity for innovative young people to come together and seek creative solutions to some of Cambodia’s most deeply entrenched social problems. As Geeks in Cambodia point out, “there is still some big gaps in knowledge and creativity in using the technology. We need to foster a culture of playing more with this, and trying new ideas”[3].

Innovation does not need to be confined to technological advances to create social change and growth in Cambodia. There are countless examples of new and innovative ideas that are demonstrating impact. Take for example, the Lady Saving Group (LSG), an informal credit union for women. Faced with the social implications of wedding expenses, where the groom pays for the celebration and the bride thus becomes ‘indebted’ to her husband, the LSG used innovative thinking to come up with a solution. They created a wedding loan with a very low interest rate, encouraging their members to contribute financially to their own weddings and thereby challenge the perceptions that they are something akin to a product in a transaction. The women that have taken up this loan so far have reported feeling like more valued members of their family, with increased decision making power and authority.

Pretty cool right?

At SHE we work with women entrepreneurs. And by nature, entrepreneurs are innovative. Given the potential impact of innovative thinking – to grow businesses, to grow the economy, to provide for families, to solve problems – we are excited to foster an innovative culture with our Program Participants. Innovative thinking and innovative action represents a real chance for Cambodian’s to be agents of positive social change. More than a buzzword, innovation is an opportunity. However, the overuse and generalization of the term is creating confusion of what it is we need when we advocate for more innovation. Michael O’Bryan, founder of the innovation consulting company 360 Thinking points out that we lose sight of the specific skills and behaviors needed to be innovative when this is what we should be focusing on. “Specifically, we need people to possess a series of thinking skills and behavioral traits that result in their ability to discover, develop, and test ideas and solutions that will result in positive changes not only to their prospective fields but also in their daily lives”[4].

Once Cambodian’s have these skills and traits, imagine the future they can create.

- Written by Prue Allen, WhyDev Fellow at SHE Investments

What does culture have to do with mentoring?

Anyone who has engaged in a positive and productive mentoring relationship will likely attest to the value of having a mentor. Having access to a quality mentor is often of critical importance to successful personal and professional development. The entrepreneurial women SHE works with either own or are starting up micro-enterprises; the value of advice, guidance and support from a ‘wise and trusted’ mentor should not be overlooked.

However, the creation of successful mentoring relationships depends on many factors that are often neglected. In particular, mentoring must be relevant to be effective. Given that the definition of mentoring varies between different cultures, one important, and often overlooked component of mentoring is cultural relevance. How mentoring is culturally understood will determine the very essence of a mentoring relationship. Mentors may be understood as teachers, as supervisors, as role models, as peers or as experts. The word mentoring may not translate or it may hold negative connotations related to power imbalances with the mentoring relationship. What is crucial to understand is that the concept of mentoring is not static, but rather is multidimensional – and implementing a culturally irrelevant mentoring program is unlikely to be much use to any of the parties involved.

Him Sopheak, co-founder/owner of Warm Family and SHE Mentor

Him Sopheak, co-founder/owner of Warm Family and SHE Mentor

Mentoring is a crucial component of the SHE Incubator Program. The opportunity for our entrepreneurs to have access to an inspiring business leader who can provide advice on how the participants can achieve their goals, build their confidence and overcome their challenges is a critical part of the Program. However, the success of the mentoring component of the Incubator Program rests largely on building a mentoring relationship with the cultural and social reality of our participants in mind. There are several components to this:

1. Societal Norms

The participants in the Incubator Program face a specific set of challenges and barriers as women in Cambodia attempting to create and lead successful businesses. Socially embedded gender roles, gendered pay disparity, familial obligations, a lack of female representation in the higher levels of business and politics, access to education and male-centric business practices are but a few of these challenges. For mentors to be able to connect with the women and offer them relevant advice and guidance, they must be able to understand these conditions. For example, Khmer women face a social expectation to be delicate, quiet and deferential to men. If the mentor does not understand this, they may suggest the women assert themselves to gain the respect of their male counterparts, which may ultimately be counter-productive.

2. Hierarchy

Furthermore, Cambodia has a very specific social hierarchy that continues to shape how individuals interact with one another. This hierarchy is based on unequal relations, where the junior partner owes the senior partner respect and obedience. These unequal relationships permeate Cambodian society; subordinates rely on superiors to be told what to do, inequalities between people are both expected and desired. These inequalities are based on many factors including the seniority of a position in a workplace, organisation or family, or even just a person’s age. Sadly, the misplaced perception of seniority based entirely on someone being a foreigner persists. An understanding of this hierarchy is crucial to forming effective mentoring relationships; if the perceived power imbalance between the mentor and the mentee is too great, the mentee is unlikely to be comfortable asking the mentor questions or sharing their struggles.

3. Saving Face

Like in many Asian cultures, saving face and losing face are very important to the Cambodian way of life. Most Cambodians are not prepared to lose face and feel it is very serious when it does happen. It is said that losing face makes Cambodians feel unsafe, frustrated, afraid and angry and can lead to conflict[1]. If the subordinate in a relationship loses face, they often fear to express themselves or talk freely in public. They are likely to become more passive and decrease their contribution to the activity at hand, which may be the mentoring relationship. Indeed, if a mentee loses face, the mentoring relationship will likely be compromised as communication channels and trust will be lost. This is interesting when considering the World Bank’s ‘Mentee Toolkit’, which suggests that mentees initiate meetings and questions and also encourages mentees to correct misunderstandings when they arise. Both of these may be things that Cambodian’s are uncomfortable doing, particularly when the power imbalance dictated by societal hierarchy is present.

SHE's 2016 Incubator Participants engaged in the mentoring process - which they described as 'inspirational'.

SHE's 2016 Incubator Participants engaged in the mentoring process - which they described as 'inspirational'.

When you consider these particular components that are unique to the Cambodian experience, it is clear that a one-size-fits-all approach to mentoring will not only be unproductive, it may also be harmful. However, armed with this understanding, it also possible to cultivate a very successful mentoring program that is relevant and grounded in cultural realities, which can offer benefits to both the mentors and the mentees. SHE’s mentors are also chosen with these factors in mind. The SHE Incubator offers peer-group mentoring, rather then partnering participants one-on-one with mentors who they may find too intimidating to approach with questions or problems. Within the group setting, the participants can take comfort in asking questions on behalf of the group instead of themselves. Individual mentoring is also available on request – when the women are comfortable enough to seek it out.

Furthermore, our mentors are chosen in line with the needs of our participants. Take our latest mentor as an example; Him Sopheak, the co-founder and owner of Warm Family online shop. Sopheak is a Khmer woman who has been confronted with many of the same challenges our participants have faced; she understands the culture, she speaks the language and she knows how to create successful relationships despite hierarchical barriers. The Incubator Participants described her as welcoming and willing to share all of her story and reported being inspired by her journey, rather than intimidated by her success.

None of this is to say that cross-cultural mentoring cannot also be successful and rewarding. However, what is really important is a commitment to understanding the prevailing social and cultural conditions within which the mentoring will take place. Given the prevalence of foreign run organisations in places like Cambodia, this implication is important; it is culturally appropriate behaviour and understanding that will facilitate meaningful mentoring relationships. It is important to remember that successful people never reach their goals alone - creating approaches to mentoring that take culture into account will allow more productive and empowering partnerships. 

- Written by Prue Allen, WhyDev Fellow with SHE Investments

The 2016 Incubator group with a mentor during a field trip

The 2016 Incubator group with a mentor during a field trip