If you think of a woman like Cherie Blair, you’d understandably make the association with her husband Tony Blair, former UK prime minister and now roving ambassador for the United Nations on Middle Eastern affairs. However, that is grossly unfair, as she is a successful woman in her own right. Cherie Blair is one of the country’s leading barristers. She has been at the forefront of campaigns for the underprivileged and underrepresented groups both in this country and across the Western world. Her latest, and some would argue, most important claim to fame, is theprogramme, the Cherie Blair Foundation. First set up in 2008, the Cherie Blair Foundation helps and supports women entrepreneurs in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East to hone their business know-how with the aim of enabling women to start successful and sustainable businesses in their local communities.
One of the latest developments of the Foundation is the ‘Mentoring Women in Business’ mentoring programme. The programme has proved to extremely successful and has arguable revolutionised the face of mentoring both in the UK and globally. What made this programme different and so unique is that it combined all the strengths of a traditional mentoring regime and combined them with technology to offer cross-border support to women entrepreneurs across the world. The mentoring programme consists of the following:
- The mentees are recruited through local partner-organisations in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East.
- The mentors apply directly through the Cherie Blair Foundation mentoring website and are subsequently matched with a mentee.
- Following an online multi-media training session, all the participants take part in a 12-month one-to-one mentoring relationship through an online Google web platform.
- The mentors and mentees have regular access to the platform forum, giving them the opportunity to pose business-related questions and to network in a professional online environment.
The success of the programme has been notable right across the business spectrum, from humble overseas start-ups, to now thriving UK businesses. Mentoring Programme Manager at the foundation, Giulia Corinaldi, has personal experience and took advantage of the opportunities offered when she first tried to establish her own business:
“I soon found out that being an entrepreneur is an exciting, but often difficult, journey. At a time when I really needed support, I found awho helped me gain more confidence and develop a clearer idea of priorities.”
There is nothing new about the idea of mentoring per se. It has been used by both men and women over the years to build new skill-sets and help to develop confidence in unfamiliar areas. What makes the Cherie Blair Foundation different is that the centre of its focus was the disadvantaged. The principle philosophy was to enable disadvantaged women to become self-sufficient and economically mobile. These people then in turn became positive role models, and were able to then pass on their wisdom and experience to women and girls in their own communities. Cherie Blair explained the philosophy as bringing to life the ‘great entrepreneurial potential of women’ through a mentoring programme that offers these women a ‘vital boost by providing them with the extra advice and support they need.’