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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 November 2018

Age gap equals a heathly relationship when choosing a mentor

The Life: How young entrepreneurs learn from those with decades' more experience.
Tia Kansara, the director and co-founder of Kansara Hackney, benefited from a Mowgli mentoring programme. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National
Tia Kansara, the director and co-founder of Kansara Hackney, benefited from a Mowgli mentoring programme. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National

Participating in a year-long mentorship programme in 2010 taught Tia Kansara a valuable lesson: that an age gap of decades is an unlikely advantage when it comes to mentorship.

The 30-year-old director and co-founder of Kansara Hackney, a sustainable consultancy agency, worked with Sandra Marshall, who is more than 20 years her senior, during her one-year tenure with Mowgli, a non-profit organisation in the United Kingdom that recruits, trains and pairs mentors with entrepreneurs.

"The advantage was she was patient because she has gone through similar experiences," says Ms Kansara.

The generation gap that every child and parent experiences can also be used to incubate a successful business. But it all depends on the ability of both parties to listen and be open-minded enough to learn from each other, say young business owners who have been helped by older mentors.

An age gap of decades "can affect [relationships] very positively, but it depends on the attitude of both the mentor and mentee, not bringing age into it necessarily but rather bringing an openness and willingness to appreciate each other's experience," says Ms Marshall.

An entrepreneur herself, Ms Marshall, 52, now works for the Foundation Trust Network, a member organisation for National Health Service public provider trusts in England.

She mentored Ms Kansara over the internet and by telephone after they met in London in 2009 at a networking session organised by Mowgli, which aims to launch a Dubai chapter next year.

"The age gap definitely helped me," says 25-year-old Salim Akil. "I am an active and restless person, and [my mentor] Gilles [Gambade] helped control that."

Mr Akil, from Aleppo in Syria, started his internet search engine business, www.searchinmena.com, in 2010 in his home country just before the uprising there started.

Later that year, he signed up for a mentorship programme with Mowgli.

A few months into the programme, Mr Akil realised he needed to get out of the country as the situation was escalating.

He moved to Beirut for three months, but his mentor, Mr Gambade, 75, a managing partner of Top Team World, a coaching school, talked him into moving to Dubai.

The pair worked together so well that Mr Akil still talks to his mentor, who is now based in Greece, over the phone twice a week.

"His language is French and mine is Arabic and when I first met him, I did not understand much of what he said," says Mr Akil. "But later, because of his experience, everything was OK."

The chemistry between the two sides comes down to mutual respect and a willingness to listen and learn, points out Ms Marshall.

"If things are not right, then you need to communicate this and put the effort in to resolve it," she says.

Mentorship is a two-way collaboration and both mentors and their protégés gain from the experience.

"The age gap means that the mentor gets a window into a younger generation and what makes it tick, which helps the mentor both understand and remain open to what the younger generation can offer," says Ms Marshall.

This is despite the pressure that a large age gap can put on the mentor as the younger person would often like to "be more energetic and want to get on with things, so [are] more concerned with the 'doing' rather than reflecting and thinking things through", she adds.

Ms Marshall says she immediately struck a chord with Ms Kansara.

The young entrepreneur was seeking someone who could help her get over her fear of public speaking. And Ms Marshall was her first choice during their intial meeting.

"I had to admit that I have a fear of getting on stage and she asked me to tell her more about it," says Ms Kansara.

"It was like somebody was holding up a mirror to my face."

ssahoo@thenational.ae