6 Things to consider when running Corporate Mentorship Programs in the Middle East

As most people have probably found out at some point in their business career, importing global ideas and practices into the Middle East just as they are and applying them without some modification can lead to ‘interesting’ consequences.

As with any region in the world, the Middle East has its own cultural and business peculiarities, which shape the way business is done here and create a unique work environment.

The above viewpoint also applies to running corporate mentorship programs in the region, a practice that is still relatively new and unknown among the majority of professionals in the Middle East. Mentorship programs are a very effective learning tool available to organisations. Not only do they improve productivity, increase employee loyalty and develop leadership skills, but they can also be very effective in improving employee retention - a challenge faced by many companies in the region, especially in the public sector and among GCC nationals.

So if you’re going to be involved in initiating, developing or running a corporate mentorship program in the Middle East, have a look through the following tips in order to avoid potential pitfalls that can cast a shadow over the success of your program.

 1. Consider the cultural and religious expectations of both mentors and mentees

You may need to hold meetings in public places instead of closed offices, or decide from the start to allocate only female mentees to female mentors and male mentees to male mentors. This will avoid the awkward possibility of husbands or brothers showing up to meetings to chaperone their wives!

2. Ensure that participants have enough time for the program

It is a well-known fact in this region that the workload of professionals is usually heavy and it may be challenging to squeeze the mentorship program’s requirements into participants' already full schedules.

3. Consider the language

Not everyone speaks English fluently, and most expats living in the Middle East don't know Arabic. Both mentors and mentees need to speak the same language comfortably in order to be able to build a productive relationship.

4. Remember that the concept of mentoring is not common in this part of the world 

As opposed to western countries where people may be exposed to mentorship programs even prior to becoming professionals, the concept of mentoring is not common in this part of the world.  You will need to explain the concept in detail, provide examples and demonstrate benefits before introducing it to your organisation.

5. Different levels of commitment

You should consider that although program managers may be fully dedicated to the mentorship program, senior management may not always offer that same level of support. To overcome this, you will have to put some effort into identifying influencers within top management and securing their support from the outset, by educating them and involving them throughout the process.

6. Be aware that most mentors require some recognition

Financial reward may be a common expectation of mentors in mentorship programs, and since most mentorship programs do not include financial incentives, you will need to identify other ways to reward participants. This could include official written recognition from senior management (assuming you have secured their full backing), internal or external communication that highlights the achievements of top performers of the program, or even a dinner out together with all the program’s participants to celebrate their work.

Remember, the benefits of a successfully run mentorship program can far outweigh the challenges faced.  Keep the above recommendations in mind, and you could be on your way to seeing how mentorship programs can be just as effective in the Middle East as they are in other regions. 

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