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An Innovative Way to Bring Mentorship to Central Vietnam

"In a lot of cultures around the world, mentorship is not a normal part of the business culture like it is in Silicon Valley. More than anything else, it’s cultivating the spirit of mentorship and why it’s important.”

Swiss EP Vietnam and CEI-Hue University have introduced mentorship in the city of Hue.

A new model has been introduced to Vietnam’s startup ecosystem through the recently completed X-Mentoring Program, co-created by Swiss EP Vietnam and its partner organization, CEI-Hue University.

The three-month pilot initiative matched university lecturers and business owners with startup and small business founders, overseen by two Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIRs).

For the first time, due to pandemic restrictions, one EIR was based overseas, while the other was on the ground in Hue. Michelle Messina, CEO of Explora International, took part from Silicon Valley; while Truong Thanh Hung, CEO of FiNNO Group, was able to attend in-person.

“As one of the pioneer startup mentors in Vietnam for almost six years now, I fully understand what mentorship really means to a startup journey, and especially the mentor's role in reducing the cost and loss of mentees,” Hung shared at the start of the program. "However, the number of startup mentors who really understand what mentoring is and how to do it is still very limited in Vietnam. There is an increasing demand for an organized group of professional mentors to be in place and I hope this mentoring program will set the foundation for it.”

“I’ve been doing training of mentor networks for eight years now, and I’ve done them in Egypt, Tunisia, Colombia, lots of different places,” Michelle said, adding that this was her first time working with Swiss EP in Vietnam.

Her goal was to share this wealth of international experience with participants unfamiliar with the concept of mentorship.

“Going into the program, I wanted to bring these mentoring best practices to the network that Hue has started,” Michelle shared. “What does it mean to be a mentor, and how to help startups get from step one to step two. In a lot of cultures around the world, mentorship is not a normal part of the business culture like it is in Silicon Valley. More than anything else, it’s cultivating the spirit of mentorship and why it’s important.”

Hung said at the start that he hoped to learn from international experts and practices, while also sharing his own experience. He also had a goal of at least eight of the ten mentor/mentee pairs being pleased with their journey together.

By the end, his expectations had been exceeded: “Only one mentee dropped out, right after the first session with his mentor as he expected something else rather than mentoring. All remaining pairs were committed to longer relationships after the program ended.”

Michelle added that two mentees requested new mentors, but they remained in the program after making a change, while explaining that this is very common when new mentorship relationships are being formed.

“My overall takeaway was that it was really nice to see the sincere desire and commitment on the parts of the mentors and the mentees to getting to know one another and learning about each other,” she said. “There was just a desire to have a connection and I haven’t seen that in other countries in the same way. That was just a really nice takeaway.”

Michelle also found that the unique arrangement of her being remote and Hung being in-person worked very well: “I think as the program continued on, the depth of Hung’s experience became clear. That was really nice to see, and he’s also a wonderful interpreter when he needs to be. Working with him as the national EIR was really great, and he was a real asset to the program.”

One of Hung’s primary concerns from the start was the fact that mentorship culture is new to Hue, and that people there are quite conservative.

“But the result was great, and it actually sets the fundamental foundation for the mentoring culture and network in Hue,” he explained. “The partner organisation, Hue Uni-CEI, is able to run the second cohort on their own, and a community of 10 local champion mentors is ready

He also believes this model can be replicated elsewhere in Vietnam, which is particularly important given the urgent need for mentoring in other cities.

In a prime example of how engaged the participants were, Hung said that Nguyen Ba Cuong, whose mentee dropped out, continued to join the check-in and review sessions with the EIRs and other mentors since he found mentoring to be critically important and a good way to learn and to share.

“I think overall, I believe it was a good exchange of value in the way I could see things change over the course of just a couple months and just the feedback and the debriefs with the mentors and the mentees, you can tell there’s value there,” Michelle concluded.