Mentoring: the Key to Economic Empowerment in the Middle East


Kathleen Bury is the Mowgli Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer and holds a BA Hons degree in Business and Quality Management from the Nottingham Trent Business School, UK.  With a strong background in several industries, her 13 years of experience includes management consulting, market analysis, energy, entrepreneurship, communications/marketing, knowledge management, process design, event management and writing. Having worked predominantly within start-up organizations and teams, Kathleen has a robust understanding of the SME sector and the challenges that entrepreneurs and SMEs face today when setting up and growing their businesses as well as the need and benefit of mentoring.

What is your connection to the Mowgli Foundation?

My family has spent over 50 years in the region and I grew up in Qatar from the age of 3 months old. This has given us a unique chance to connect with the region and its people in a very different way.

My father, Tony Bury, founded the Mowgli Foundation with a vision of embedding mentorship within the entrepreneurship ecosystem of the region to empower the creation and development of leaders, with the ultimate goal of creating job opportunities through economic generation. This vision came to be after realizing that governments and corporations alone cannot meet the huge job creation challenges of the region. Entrepreneurs are renowned for being able to step up to this job creation challenge, provided they have the right skills, training, guidance and support systems in place to enable them to grow themselves and their businesses in a sustainable manner.

As a serial entrepreneur my father, who had started a total of 18 companies, 14 of them in the GCC, wanted a new learning curve and to give back to the region. Through personal reflection, he recognized the significant importance of having mentors in his life to enable him to achieve success, both personally and professionally. This inspired him to establish the Mowgli Foundation, which pioneered entrepreneurial mentoring within the region by training mentors in the art and philosophy of mentoring and connecting them with entrepreneurs to inspire, guide and empower them to create successful businesses.

I took over as Mowgli’s CEO in 2014 after working within several other positions within the Foundation as well as within other for and not-for-profit organizations in East Africa, Middle East and United Kingdom. The founding vision of Mowgli is still very much at the core of our operations and we have positioned Mowgli as the regional source of over 900 trained mentors, who have worked with over 750 entrepreneurs.

Why focus on mentoring, why is it so important?

Mentoring can make a significant impact in an entrepreneur’s life, regardless of the stage they are at, not just from a business direction perspective, but also in a deeply personal way as well.

Mentorship is about having someone next to you who wholeheartedly serves your needs, not their own. It’s about having someone tell you what you need to know, not necessarily what you want to hear.

Mentoring can impact us in many different ways. it can help defeat loneliness,; it can help you learn and grow, it can keep you realize and stay accountable to your own personal values and business strategy, it can help you identify the root causes to challenges you may be facing, it can help us identify and regulate our egos, and it can help build communities of people based on ‘serving’ relationships that are built on trust and mutual benefit.

If I look at my experience of living and growing up with a serial entrepreneur, I often wonder where my father, my parents and I would be if he didn’t have the various mentors around him to help him question, provide him with different perspectives and keep him accountable to his own goals, for instance.

Mowgli’s impact does not just end with the entrepreneur; the impact reaches much further than mentors and entrepreneurs we work with. There is a ripple effect that occurs, impacting co-founders, team members, employees, families, children and the wider society.

What does mentoring mean specifically to you?

As a family we moved around a fair bit. I developed a different outlook on life, in comparison to many of my young peers and did not really fit in with them during my school years. I struggled with loneliness, a loss of confidence and I began to hide from my own capabilities and those around me. Upon reflection, it was then that I found my first mentor; my mother who was and still is a strong pillar of support in my life. She taught me that the importance of having somebody you trust and who only wants the best for you, to stand next to you during the most difficult of times.

I found my second mentor when I finished school and when I was not sure of which university to go to nor which direction to take. My father provided guidance that helped me make the right choices for me and gain focus. He did not make the choices for me. As I progressed, he continued to challenge me with new opportunities for learning and provided me with honest feedback, both negative and positive, to enable me to grow. Until today, I surround myself with positive people who I can trust as friends and mentors to influence both my professional and personal development.

I feel the essence of life is to learn and then to pass it on. I have seven mentors in three continents that I reach out to and I currently mentor my team as well a number of entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs. Seeing them grow and lead their own lives often gives me more satisfaction than my own growth.

What is your future plan for Mowgli? What do you want to accomplish in the next 5-10 years?

During the past six years, we’ve proven that our mentoring philosophy, model and techniques bear significant fruits as our entrepreneurs have created and safeguarded more than 3250 jobs within their mentoring year. This equates to two new jobs being created per entrepreneur on average in the MENA region.

Quality of mentoring is a key passion and drive of ours, so as a next step to our mentor training offering, which we have proven delivers value, we are developing a mentor accreditation system to ensure that quality mentoring is available to effectively support entrepreneurs. In the long term we aim to have mentorship as a regulated industry, which benefits all stakeholders.

We wish for mentoring to have a greater level of reach and impact and so are working on empowering the establishment of local mentoring organizations (LMO)s across the entire MENA region under a franchise model. These LMO’s would operate independently, seek their own funding and meet the needs of local priorities whilst being supported by and reporting to the centralized Mowgli operations.

Sub-Saharan Africa is a strong potential market for us to grow into given the burgeoning entrepreneurship scene and their enthusiasm to learn and grow. Africa and especially East Africa hold a special place in my heart, as I spent time as a volunteer teacher in Tanzania in the early 2000s and currently live between Dubai and Kenya.

How has leading Mowgli impacted you personally?

I am living in line with my and my family’s areas of passion; fostering entrepreneurship and leadership, education, development of communities, philanthropy and the Middle East.

I am continuously given opportunities for learning and growth, the honour of meeting people from such diverse backgrounds and the platform to have a grassroots perspective of the region, which has strengthened my understanding of, and connection to its people.


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