If you are ever involved in creating, developing, or running a corporate mentorship program in the GCC area, I’m hoping that you will find the tips below really helpful.
1. Consider the cultural and religious expectations of both mentors and mentees. For example, you might need to make the meetings in public places as opposed to closed offices, or decide right at the beginning to allocate only female mentees to female mentors, and male mentees to male mentors. This will avoid the awkward situation of husbands or brothers showing up to the meetings along with their wives.
2. Ensure that the participants will actually have enough time to conduct the meetings. As it is a well-known fact in this area, the workload of professionals is always very heavy and it is challenging to squeeze mentorship requirements into the participants’ already full schedules.
3. Consider the language. Not everyone speaks English fluently, and most expats living in the GCC don’t speak Arabic. Both mentors and mentees need to speak the same language fluently in order to be able to build a fruitful relationship.
4. Remember that “mentoring” is not common in this part of the world. As opposed to western countries where people might be exposed to several mentorship programs throughout their lives prior to becoming professionals, mentorship is not common in the GCC and therefore, you will need to explain the concept in details, give examples and show its benefits, before even introducing your organization’s program.
5. Know that although program managers might be fully dedicated to the mentorship program, the upper management might not actually provide enough support. Again, this sort of links to the point above where the “mentoring” concept is not really common in this area. To mediate this, you will have to spend more efforts in mapping top management stakeholders and gaining their support using different initiatives (informing, educating, involving etc.)
6. Be aware that almost all mentors will require some sort of recognition. Financial reward is highly anticipated at the kick-start of the project. Although most mentorship programs will not include any kind of financial reward, there are other ways in which you can reward the participants. Some ideas include a recognition letter from upper management (provided that you are able to get their full support), an article dedicated to highlight the achievements of the star performers of your program, or simply a lavish outing or dinner if your budget allows it.
Remember, the benefits of a successfully run mentorship programme will definitely outweigh any challenges you might face. In addition to improving productivity, employee on-boarding and leadership development, mentorship programs can actually be very effective in solving the retention challenge which is a common theme among companies in the GCC, especially in the public sector and among nationals.