The MicroMentor team recognizes that our community is enriched by the experiences of mentors who donate their time and business expertise to support under-resourced entrepreneurs. January is National Mentoring Month and MicroMentor commemorates the occasion by presenting The Larson Award.
Started in 2021, The Larson Award celebrates the spirit of mentorship by honoring mentors in our community who go the extra mile in their commitment to mentorship. It is therefore with great pleasure that we present the 2022 Larson Award to Vanessa Robinson.
With over 15 years of experience in the field of business development, Vanessa Robinson, MS Ed. is passionate about sharing her knowledge and expertise with small business owners. She is particularly interested in helping non-profits and social enterprises which inspired her to co-found ANEW Social Solutions, a company that helps build, launch, and scale first time and small businesses.
The Path to Mentorship
Vanessa began her mentoring journey quite early as a student leader at her alma mater. With student leaders and volunteers constantly cycling, veterans like Vanessa were expected to groom and train new recruits. Over the course of her college career, Vanessa mentored over 200 student leaders and volunteers.
Vanessa was referred to MicroMentor by a friend who suggested she join the community to get help with growing her non-profit. Soon enough, Vanessa found herself actually helping other entrepreneurs in the community who were just starting out in the nonprofit sector by sharing her knowledge and experiences.
Ever since, Vanessa has been helping entrepreneurs on MicroMentor with program development, outreach and visibility, digital marketing and fundraising consulting, and brand identity development. Her aim is to use her expertise to guide future entrepreneurs away from the same mistakes she made on her journey as a non-profit entrepreneur.
When asked to describe her mentorship style, Vanessa replied with a twinkle in her eye “My mentoring philosophy is simple. A leader’s job is to look into the future and see the community not as it is, but [to] view it as it can be.”
Being a mentor has also been a learning experience for Vanessa. She gains a better understanding of entrepreneurs' perspectives regarding their projects or programmes. This insight helps Vanessa better advise clients in a professional capacity as a consultant for social enterprises.
Building Relationships through Mentorship
Vanessa loves being a mentor because she is drawn to her mentees’ causes and their desire to learn. “For me, the best mentee is one who wants to actually build experience and knowledge through implementation; not ones that just want to be told what to do and how to do it,'' she says.
When asked what the secret to a successful mentee-mentor relationship is, Vanessa shares that it is open communication and honesty. For her, it is important for both parties to set clear expectations for the outcome of mentorship. It is also crucial for mentors and mentees to understand each other’s limitations in terms of knowledge and experiences to maximize productivity and growth.
Mentors Facilitate Community Impact
Ramatu Kamara from Washington D.C connected with Vanessa Robinson on MicroMentor during the summer of 2021 when she was seeking guidance on formalizing and scaling her organization, ICY Foundation. Ramatu started the ICY Foundation in 2009 when she began a youth mentorship program that helped young women on their journey to becoming independent adults. ICY stands for Inner-City Youth and Ramatu began her pilot program with a group of girls aged 14–15 who from underprivileged and at-risk backgrounds who experienced a lack of consistent role models. She worked to provide them with free services such as academic support, mentorship, an assortment of hand-on workshops and fun field trips.
After finding success with the program on a small scale, Ramatu needed Vanessa’s help to make the ICY Foundation an independent entity so that she could take on bigger projects in the future and achieve her goal of serving inner city youth in Washington D.C.
“I am very grateful for having met Vanessa on MicroMentor”, says Ramatu, “Vanessa is someone I trust and she is a great mentor. She encourages me to believe in myself and continue to work hard, she highlights my growth and provides me with positive support when I overcome tasks or when the ‘light bulb comes on’.”
Vanessa’s Top Tips for Mentors
- Get to know your mentees, assess their needs and determine where your skill set aligns with their needs
- Set realistic expectations, so they understand what to expect from their relationship that is being built.
- Create a Plan of Action to ensure that efficient and sustainable goals are being met and that both parties (mentee and mentor) are benefiting from the interaction.