How Corporate Mentorship Can Help Your Social Enterprise Scale

Alexandra Nemeth

Senior Manager, Content Marketing & Storytelling at MovingWorlds

In our work supporting the social enterprise movement over the past decade, one thing has become abundantly clear: social enterprises need more than just financial investment to achieve their world-changing potential. The right connections, resources, customers, and partners — at the right times — can help social enterprises accelerate growth AND impact. 

Through the TRANSFORM Support Hub, social enterprises are able to access capacity-building support, coaching, and mentorship from skilled professionals, while at the same time, the corporate professionals providing that support are able to make a meaningful difference with the skills they use at work every day, in turn broadening their perspectives and facilitating a two-way exchange of business innovation.

In 2021, SAP partnered with MovingWorlds to launch the Acceleration Collective: a virtual pro-bono consulting program within the TRANSFORM Support Hub where social enterprises can connect exclusively with SAP employees. 

These cross-sector engagements are truly a win-win — something that clearly shines through in the following story about the experience of Durian Nigeria Founder, Tony Joy, and her mentor from SAP, Susan Galer.

Finding the Perfect Match

The Social Enterprise Need

Tony Joy is the Founder of Durian Nigeria, a social enterprise on a mission to create rural communities of the future that are circular, creative, and powered by women. To achieve this, Durian works with women in rural communities to teach them how to turn local resources and waste into a means of livelihood. As Tony explained, “We go into communities and help identify the types of resources and waste available, then work with groups of women to research and experiment with different ways that waste can be upcycled into new products, typically related to crafts or agriculture. We also provide adult education, including business training, to help these women bring their products to market and turn them into self-sustaining businesses that create an avenue to financial independence and security.” 

Women engaged in bamboo carpentry
Women using carpentry to turn bamboo into beautiful crafts
Harvesting cocoa pods to process into skincare products, like black soap
Harvesting cocoa pods to process into skincare products, like black soap
Transforming fabric waste into new fashion products
Women transforming fabric waste into new fashion products

Reflecting on her motivation to join the TRANSFORM Support Hub, Tony shared that, “Sometime last year, we realized that we had a big gap in the work we were doing and the way we were communicating it. We didn’t have a communications plan or roadmap for how we want to present our organization to external audiences, or a pitch deck for potential partners or investors. When I learned about the opportunity to connect with a skilled mentor from the corporate sector, I was so excited.”

Tony posted her project on the TRANSFORM Support Hub platform, and waited for the right mentor to match with.

The Mission-Aligned Mentor

SAP’s Director of Communications, Susan Galer, has been a long-time participant in SAP’s portfolio of social good programs. Before SAP launched the Acceleration Collective as a way to scale those programs, she was an active participant in the bespoke initiatives that preceded it.

When she learned about the opportunity to engage through the newly launched Acceleration Collective, she jumped at the chance. She remembered, “When I saw the email come through, I knew I wanted to be part of it. Because it’s virtual, it’s very doable and so much more accessible for any employee anywhere in the world. It also felt very aligned with my own goals and values – professionally, I made a commitment to lifelong learning, and couldn’t think of a more rewarding way to live that commitment than mentoring a social entrepreneur through the Acceleration Collective.” 

When Susan found Tony’s project, she knew it would be a great match. Not only did Susan’s communications, market analysis, and previous consulting skills align perfectly to Tony’s needs, but she also explained that, “there was a gender-based side to it as well. I am passionate about helping women, and that’s exactly what Durian is doing. In my experience, that’s when the best mentoring can happen — when there’s an underlying passion to the work you’re doing.”

Susan responded to Tony’s project on the platform, and they both enthusiastically confirmed the match.

Working Together

One thing that shines through Susan and Tony’s experience together is the importance of developing a genuine relationship built on trust, listening, and adaptability to meet the evolving needs of the person you’re supporting.

Connecting the Dots Between Communications and Business Strategy

Initially, Susan and Tony focused on the communications plan. Susan shared, “In our first meeting, Tony and I decided on a meeting cadence of once a week. The first couple months were spent putting together a communications plan, where we worked together to outline Durian’s mission, objectives, strategies with distinct target audiences, along with messages and tactics for each. I took a very consultative approach to understanding what her needs and vision were, where she wanted to go, and how my skills could help achieve those goals. In terms of how we collaborated, I set up a Google Document with the plan so we could both easily access it, and in each weekly meeting, I would show her the latest updates, and we would go through it together in real-time so I could interview her about different ideas. Afterwards, I would update the plan based on that conversation, and she would give me feedback asynchronously until our next meeting. One thing that really helped was having a clear agenda every week so that we both knew our role in moving the plan forward.”

The consultative, interview-based approach helped Tony think through the exact areas she needed to get clearer on, which in turn helped Tony clarify not only the way she communicates about Durian Nigeria’s work, but also its broader strategy for future growth. Tony reflected that, “Susan helped me realize that I needed to get a lot more specific. She challenged me to really think through each aspect of the business, and write down exactly what I want to see happen in the next 5 years. She asked questions like, ‘When you say women, what kind of women do you mean? How many women? What’s the outcome of your intervention? What kind of partners do you need? Why?’ Talking through the plan was almost a forcing exercise to pinpoint exactly who Durian Nigeria is trying to reach, and what to say once we reach them.”

Durian Nigeria Founder, Tony Joy (top, center)

It wasn’t easy, but Susan was there to support each step of the way. She remembered assuring Tony that, “It’s a little challenging now, but trust me – once you have this, this is gold and it’s everything you will need later on. And that proved to be true – afterwards, in encounters with some NGOs and other groups, Tony shared with me that the exercise was more than a communications plan: it was a marketing and almost business strategy document that really helped her figure out what she wanted to do with the organization, and why.” 

Developing Confidence as a Writer

Part of what has made Susan and Tony’s relationship so successful is a solid foundation of mutual understanding and ability to adapt to evolving needs. As Susan pointed out, “You might think that as a mentor, you’re the leader, but that’s not true. It’s the mentee that is leading you – they are the ones telling you how you can best support them, and your job as a mentor is to be able to listen, ask the right questions, and maintain that service orientation.” 

With the communications plan in place, the next thing Tony wanted to focus on was writing. Coming into the experience, Tony shared, “I had very low self-esteem about my writing. But Susan was willing to go beyond the initial scope of the communications plan to meet me where I was, and offered me two writing training sessions. She helped me realize that I do have a lot of good things to say, and that I just needed more structure around how I communicated them. In the writing training sessions, she guided me through developing a blog post, reading what I had written and giving me feedback. She helped me see the small changes I could make to take it from good to great, and the post was even accepted for publication by the Social Enterprise World Forum! Working with Susan feels like more than a typical mentor/mentee relationship – it’s like talking to a friend, and became a place where I could really open up about the gaps in my knowledge or skills, what I had done, and what I had not yet done – without being criticized or judged.” 

Tony shared that as a result of this collaboration, she feels empowered to “talk about different parts of my organization in a new way. Even though it’s the same information, I am able to speak to it with much more clarity, which has increased my confidence in speaking to publications like SEWF, potential partners, or other executives. I realized that I had a tendency to repeat the same point unintentionally, and I learned how to pay attention to my thoughts while talking about my work as a result of talking through it with Susan and listening to her feedback.”

The Outcomes

Tony and Susan are still meeting regularly, so while the experience isn’t over, the outcomes have been impactful for both of them already. 

Broadening Perspectives

Susan reflected, “Every time I mentor someone, it broadens my understanding of the world with fresh perspectives. It also builds empathy, both personally and professionally, and stokes my curiosity. As a writer, my curiosity is my greatest strength – it’s so crucial to effective storytelling. Working with Tony has been equally educational and rewarding for me as it has been for her, and I’m grateful to work for a company like SAP that gives me the opportunity to bring my full self and stretch my professional skills and personal passions to support an organization like Durian that is literally building a better world.” 

Susan’s perspective isn’t the only one that’s shifted as a result of this experience. Tony shared, “Honestly, before this experience, I felt intimidated by people in the corporate world. I held my own set of assumptions. But experteering is completely different from any rigid expectations I may have had – I have a completely different view now. Corporate professionals are not robots, they are human beings just like I am. We are each working within different systems to drive change, and each willing and eager to learn from the other. Susan was really willing to meet me at my level, try different things, and incredibly constructive with her feedback – never harsh or strict. I used to look at corporate executives and only see the title. But now I see the person behind it, and have a newfound confidence in my ability to approach them without that mental barrier, person to person.”

Reaching the Next Level of Growth and Impact

Tony’s newfound sense of confidence will directly impact the future of her important work at Durian Nigeria, and in many ways, already has. Tony was recently accepted into the Ashoka Africa Fellowship program, a highly competitive program that gives the world’s leading social entrepreneurs investment support, community, and the network to do more. Tony remembers that during the final round of interviews, “The interviewers really applauded the level of clarity and specificity I was able to provide in answering their questions about my organization and its goals. That came directly from this work with Susan, and the previously scattered pieces I had developed on my own came together so beautifully. I was able to confidently talk about what I do, why I do it, the future of my organization, and answer even the most specific of questions.” 

We’re grateful to Tony and Susan for sharing their inspiring story with us, and look forward to following their continued growth and impact as they continue to support each other. If your social enterprise is looking for pro-bono support to reach the next level of growth and impact, apply to the TRANSFORM Support Hub