Emerging leaders

Money is the seed, but mentoring makes the seed grow
Developing Just Leadership

Khalil Abdul-Rahman

Dhu al-Hijjah 10, 1438 2017-09-01

News & Analysis

by Khalil Abdul-Rahman (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 46, No. 7, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1438)

During her teenage years when she helped out with her mother’s home-based business, Maryam Maishanu knew that she wanted to nurture and build a business of her own. She observed how customers responded differently as they showed their preferences for products that were offered to them. Those experiences made her yearn for a deeper understanding of how their choices were made.

Though she did not realize it at the time, Maryam had already begun charting a course toward becoming a leader. Leadership emerges in those who constantly test themselves through real-world experiences and who strive to understand who they are at their core. She would discover that shura plays an important role in all of this.

Maryam studied sciences during her secondary education and later went on to study computer science at the university. After graduation, she started to work in a computer center. Although she enjoyed the work, as a female Maryam felt isolated in a male-dominated profession.

She noticed that males nearly always take every opportunity to show off that they are better, especially during fieldwork activities. But she was resolute and patiently awaited her opportunity, which came when the computer center entered into a partnership with Cisco (a major technology company) to establish a networking academy.

Nominated as an instructor and also the gender initiative facilitator to encourage female enrollment in the Cisco Academy, Maryam learned that these roles helped her to better understand the many challenges and false notions that hinder women from technology-related careers. While performing the duties related to her role as instructor, she came to realize her deep passion for teaching.

The Cisco Academy is a completely deployed e-learning platform where instructors focus on intensive hands-on practical and lecture sessions. Maryam’s experience with the teaching methodologies at the Academy encouraged her to start thinking and visualizing learning in new ways. She came to more clearly see that the focus of the program was on delivering value and using various strategies to accomplish this.

It was during this time about three years ago that a special opportunity arose. She took part in a business plan competition where she wrote and submitted a plan that won a grant. Her original idea was to combine three passions into one — teaching, operating a business, and promoting female participation in technology. Maryam formed and launched the company named LearnOn ICT (information communications technology) to execute her business plan.

Today, LearnOn ICT provides various technology services and training but not exclusively for females. Instead she has employed various strategies that include collaboration with partners to vigorously encourage and support females in ICT.

Maryam explains “I have to confess that my modest experience in human resource management, financial management, and marketing through my years of supporting my mother in business and later in my office work were not enough to prepare me for the challenges I have faced in entrepreneurship. I simply had to re-tool myself.”

She has learned that at the core of any business or service is a value proposition offered to customers and one of the worst mistakes many entrepreneurs make in the beginning is to focus on making a profit. But the proper order is to focus on delivering value first and the profits will naturally follow.

In order to create value there is a need to properly understand the customer — which is not realizable without proper communication. As Maryam put this learning into practice, she recognized that this experience was similar to her early lessons in customer engagement from her mother’s business. These principles have made a great impact on her approach to marketing, how she packages and delivers her services, and even how she orients her staff with noticeable success.

Of all her experiences, Maryam acknowledges the key role that mentorship has played and continues to play in her development. During her teenage years when she assisted her mother, it was her mother that was a mentor and the source of her ambition to run a business of her own. When Maryam first signed the agreement for the grant used to launch her business, she had to accept a mentor whose role was to guide and counsel her through the rough patches in her business.

She soon learned that in contrast to the inspectors and auditors that periodically review her business throughout the duration of her grant agreement, she views her mentor as a trusted advisor. The former evaluate her business through a rigid set of procedures and guidelines, while the latter reviews her business “as is.” Her mentor has been through very similar experiences and guides her in a natural way, calms her doubts and fears, and gives her hope.

Early this year Maryam entered a business partnership with the Enabling Investment Group (EIG), a small group of investors who target startup businesses that are often overlooked by other investors. EIG provides funding and/or shura (consultative) services designed to enable businesses to develop the resources and skills they need to make their startup ventures as successful as possible.

Maryam states “I value the mentorship (shura) that comes with the working relationship as much as the financial contribution. The money is the seed but mentorship is what makes the seed to grow!” The EIG partnership has enabled her to review her business plan and decide which aspects of her business have the highest priority for application of funds.

As she looks back over the past and examines the present to determine how things in her business are going, Maryam realizes it takes extra effort to suppress a nagging voice about the future. She asks herself “Is my success sustainable? Will the current economic recession destroy my business? Will a new competitor take over? Will my products or services become obsolete?”

Not long ago she set out on a quest to find the answers. But from whom? She came to understand that it must be from people who had similar ambitions and had been through similar experiences, learned from them, and applied successfully what they had learned.

Looking into their stories of what they did and what were their motivations and expectations, Maryam discovered something common in their stories. They all narrated a beautiful story of how roses were grown among thorns. They didn’t cover the thorns with leaves. And so she knew if she is able to stay focused and maintain a friendship with them, she will one day pluck her roses out of the thorns. These will be her mentors!

Today Maryam is fortunate enough to be highly regarded in her community as a female that has established and maintained a technology based entrepreneurship that is still uncommon at this time. With proper mentorship, she thinks this will ultimately help make the chances of success high. For more information, contact Maryam (admin@learnonitacademy.com).

In regard to highlighting some strategies, tools, and methods for achieving social and economic justice, this installment in a series of articles is intended to share ongoing efforts to implement Qur’anic and prophetic guidance in our societies. Guest writers are invited to submit stories of what is being done to establish the practical application of Islam in our communities. Accepted articles may be edited to conform to Crescent International publication standards.

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