When Renuka Sena, co-founder and CEO of Proficeo Consultants Sdn Bhd, started the Mentor-For-Good programme in January (World Mentoring Month), she had little idea just how much it would be needed a couple of months down the road.
The mentors on Proficeo’s network had pledged more than 700 hours to the programme and Renuka was wondering when to kick-start the programme when the Covid-19 outbreak and subsequent Movement Control Order (MCO) decided for her. “I set out to find a suitable platform that would allow the mentors to upload their profiles for mentees to see who they were … something like LinkedIn,” she says.
This happened earlier this week. “We onboarded 34 mentors on the Mentor-For-Good platform, created their profiles and set aside the time for which they would be available for mentoring,” says Renuka.
Then, Proficeo sent a mail out to its mentees to take advantage of the counselling provided. Some 37 responded within 24 hours, booking a total of 14 hours.
“Right now, the most needed advice is in financial planning, human resources and digital marketing,” she says, adding that after the first general mail-out, Proficeo is reaching out on a more curated basis to those in the network with expertise in these core areas.
Other topics that can be covered are legal (understanding contractual obligations and how to negotiate alternatives), branding (how to show customers they are willing and able to continue serving them) and counselling (a listening ear to calm fears and help them through this period).
This service is completely free. “We firmly believe in the pay-it-forward culture. In fact, some of our alumni who have gone through hard times and survived have come on board as mentors,” says Renuka.
Proficeo has built an ecosystem of more than 2,260 individuals over the 12 years of its existence as an entrepreneurial training and coaching organisation through its various programmes such as Coach & Grow (with Cradle Fund) and Level Up (with Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation).
Its ecosystem comprises technology entrepreneurs, micro-entrepreneurs, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and social enterprises. “We have such a large ecosystem and part of the reason we did this was that we wanted to have more connectedness within the ecosystem.”
The coaching is desperately needed now, she points out. Some sectors such as health, beauty and fashion have been affected very adversely as these are deemed luxuries. “There is so much uncertainty with the MCO and people are conserving cash. They won’t buy unnecessarily.”
Micro-entrepreneurs are another group that has been badly affected as most of them live on a day-to-day cash basis. “My children use a taxi service to go to school and the guy who runs it is struggling as nobody is taking taxis now. He still needs to pay rent, but there is no income coming in.”
Renuka says micro-entrepreneurs like him are unaffected by the concessions made by banks with regard to SME loans. “There is a large group that do not even qualify for loans because they sell what they have and live from month to month. They need some kind of credit facility extended to them, which would give them breathing space, at least, to plan what to do when they come out of this. Right now, most of them cannot even sleep at night.”
She is appealing to all successful entrepreneurs (who have run businesses for at least three years), professionals (legal, finance, operations, marketing, digital marketing, PR and anything else that is relevant) and executives with a corporate or consulting background to come forward and help those struggling to weather this crisis.
“At the moment, we have only reached out to those in our own network because we need to be able to trust the person on the other end of the phone,” says Renuka.
But this is an unprecedented time and the help is desperately needed. “The more mentors who have created their profiles, the more mentees will come on board and the more hours will be booked. It is an organic process and will take time. But we need to start somewhere and I am confident that it will happen,” she says.
Those who are interested in being either a mentor or a mentee can go to Proficeo’s website (https://proficeo.com/mentor-for-good) to sign up.