Julia is a graduate of our Mentoring Women in Business Programme, in collaboration with the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, taking part between November 2018 and November 2019. Here’s an overview of her experiences as a mentee, and what sort of impact the programme had on her and her business.
Julia from Vietnam had always dreamed of running her own business. In her final year of university, she and three friends set up a company that makes and sells a wide range of bamboo products, such as trays, toys, kitchen tools and furniture, for businesses and individuals. As they were all new to running a business, there were many problems that they didn’t have solutions for. The business wasn’t doing well and needed to be stabilised. When Julia heard about the Mentoring Women in Business Programme, she was over the moon as she recognised that participating in it could change her business completely, for the better.
“I grew so much during the mentoring year. I’m very grateful to have had such a great mentor, which I have told Swapna often. I hope other women will have a great mentor as well.”
Through the collaboration between the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, Julia was matched with mentor Swapna, a Project Manager at a global business services company from Canada. During their first meetings they came up with a plan for their mentoring relationship for the whole year, based on targets that Julia had identified for the business. They worked through the plan during their weekly meetings, using each call to discuss what things Julia had been able to work on that week and what she would focus on next.
Julia shared with her mentor that sometimes she didn’t have enough sale orders, so Swapna helped her to write a business and sales plan, spending time to also review her marketing strategy. HR was another area Julia needed help with, and so they discussed how to arrange the departments within the company and ways to better engage staff.
In the middle of the mentoring year, Julia’s business experienced internal problems, which meant that two of her business partners left the company. Swapna supported her to deal with this crisis, first by helping Julia to handle her emotions and keep calm during this difficult time. Then they looked at how the business could survive this crisis. Since its set up, Julia’s business also started to grow coffee, but the pair discussed that it would be more efficient to just focus on the bamboo products for now, as capacity had decreased. Swapna also helped Julia take another look at her HR and sales strategies, and together they amended them. Julia reported that the new strategies suit her new situation very well.
Each week, Julia would share with her business partners what she learned during her mentoring sessions. They then decided collectively what changes they should implement in the company. As a result of being on the Mentoring Women in Business Programme and working with her mentor Swapna, Julia’s business is now stable and ready to grow. Her customer numbers increased over the year, so much so that the factory is currently working at full capacity. “The next step is to find investors so that we can increase our capacity and accommodate our growing number of orders,” Julia commented.
According to Julia, the biggest improvement can be seen in her business management and leadership skills. Processes within the company are much more efficient now, following her experiences as a mentee, as she’s more organised. Swapna also helped her to be better able to deal with unexpected changes. “If something bad happens, I can now handle my emotions and calmly come up with a solution. You can’t avoid bad things when you do business, you just have to be able to deal with them and not have them stop you.”
Julia is happy that her business is doing well, as it was set up to benefit her community: “Bamboo is a sustainable product: our products replace a lot of plastic. We also opened our factory in an area where many women didn’t have a job. We’ve created jobs for them. We employ over 10 women now. I think it’s important to do something good for yourself, other people and the environment. That’s what happens in my business.”
Julia has shared her experiences on the Mentoring Women in Business Programme with her friends, who she has advised to apply to the programme as well.
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The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.