Portfolio mentoring programme: promoting development

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With a strategic focus within our own organisation of creating a genuinely diverse and inclusive workplace for our employees, Actis is also in a great position to support our portfolio companies in building environments that value the different viewpoints and contribution of employees drawn from a variety of backgrounds, beliefs and ethnicities.

As part of our commitment to foster diverse and inclusive cultures in the companies we back in 2019, we established a portfolio company mentoring programme that matches ambitious, talented people in middle management positions with experienced senior leaders from Actis and other portfolio companies. But it is a mentoring programme with a difference: “We wanted to find a way of supporting our companies in their inclusion and diversity efforts and mentoring can be a really powerful tool to enable diverse talent to thrive,” says Shami Nissan, Head of Responsible Investment at Actis and a member of the firm’s inclusion and diversity working group. “Yet many of our companies are too small to have formal mentoring programmes – this initiative leverages the combined scale of our portfolio and our firm.”

Aiming to develop the personal and professional skills of high potential mentees drawn from a highly diverse pool of people, the initiative is currently in pilot phase and has an initial focus on the African portfolio. So far, it includes 18 mentoring pairs drawn from eight Actis companies across our private equity, real estate, and energy infrastructure portfolios. ““The programme is designed to focus on diverse individuals as mentees – that could be females or people who are under-represented in senior roles in a given market,” says Nissan. “They are high-performing individuals who are have not yet reached C-suite but have the potential to be future leaders given the right support and conditions.”

Running initially for 12 months, the programme offers mentees the opportunity to benefit from expertise, guidance and support from experienced professionals through regular meetings focused on raising ambitions and developing leadership skills. Hand-picked by company CEOs, mentees kick-start the process based on their development goals and, with the help of their mentors, work through their objectives for the coming period. The programme includes a briefing session for mentors and mentees at outset, as well as supporting guidance and resources to guide the mentorship, help frame conversations and provide practical tools and tips. Importantly, it will be evaluated after a year to assess its impact so that, if successful, we can expand the initiative to more of our regions and portfolio companies.

So far, the results have been encouraging. Having completed our first check-in with the programme’s mentors, many have said they, too, have learned a lot from their work with mentees. “We’re seeing reverse mentoring coming through,” says Lucy Heintz, Energy Partner at Actis and a member of the firm’s inclusion and diversity working group. “We made a deliberate attempt to establish the programme so that mentors could really understand the perspectives of junior members of staff at our portfolio companies. The feedback we’ve had suggests this is really happening – it is offering real insight into what it’s like to walk in another person’s shoes.”

Indeed, Nissan sees the programme as offering benefits to all sides. “For individuals – both mentors and mentees – it provides a learning experience that they can take through their professional life,” she says. “For portfolio companies, it helps them harness talent and create more a more inclusive culture."