Most of us are blessed with knowledge, skills, expertise, and the gift of time. Be ready and willing to help others who can benefit from this! Skills-based volunteering is an amazing way to use your own experience and professional assets to give back. Several companies around the world are investing in offering such opportunities to their employees, I urge professionals to make time to leverage these opportunities.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations who are making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anita Ramachandran. Anita is the Executive Director of MicroMentor, a social innovation of Mercy Corps, and the largest online community for free business mentoring, operating in nearly 200 countries worldwide. She has over 20 years of combined Non-Profit (NGO), corporate operations, and foundation management experience across a wide spectrum of industries and countries. She’s an entrepreneur, problem-solver, and changemaker, passionate about mentoring and personal growth.
Thank you so much for doing this with us, Anita! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to start on your career path?
As a naturally empathetic person, the desire to do something to help someone or address an issue often feels like a personal responsibility. When I was a young mom and a recent immigrant to the US, I was exposed to the issue of domestic violence. It felt like an imperative to do something about it, so a group of us banded together to create SAWERA, an organization committed to assisting South Asian women and children affected by domestic violence. Due to my career in business and marketing, this work was always “on the side.” After years of balancing both the career I felt compelled to pursue, and SAWERA, which was my passion, I decided to bring congruence in my efforts and pursue a career that filled my desire to be of service. This started with some career and soul-searching before I landed with Mercy Corps and joined the early, small but mighty team at MicroMentor.
Did you set out to start a movement? If so, what was your vision? If not, what did you imagine would be the impact of your work?
When I walked through the doors of Mercy Corps nearly seven years ago, I knew I had found my place and people. When I heard about MicroMentor, it felt indescribably relatable. I had always believed in the power of human connection and how transformative it is to help someone selflessly. MicroMentor’s mission of connecting small business owners with mentors exemplified the power of connection, and I knew I believed in it at my core. To be honest, I had no idea where this journey was going to take me, but I knew I had something to offer and that MicroMentor had something to offer to me. The symbiosis only grew over the years. While I did not start out to create a mentorship movement, I have been committed to raising awareness about mentorship, particularly for budding entrepreneurs and I do this by walking the talk.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ll often conduct entire conversations in my head to work through the details of an issue before I speak out loud to another person. When I do connect with someone and they don’t immediately know what I’m talking about, we both end up confused! This has led to some pretty amusing misunderstandings at the office and at home with my kids. As my daughter will often comment: “Are you talking to your head again?!” Biggest lesson learned — while being thoughtful about what I say is important, I need to be aware of how someone else is comprehending or interpreting my thoughts and words.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
MicroMentor is changing the life of entrepreneurs all over the world, one connection at a time. We have pioneered a digital model of mentorship in which entrepreneurs and mentors create profiles describing their respective business needs and skills, then self-select a mentoring match from anywhere across the globe. By offering perspective and expertise, the right mentor can empower you both to understand your own gifts and what might be holding you back. Most importantly, they make you feel less alone.
Our virtual community has flourished organically, to 75,000 entrepreneurs and 30,000 mentors across nearly 200 countries, who collaborate to overcome obstacles to entrepreneurial success. We are growing businesses and creating jobs at a current rate of $144/job, which is up to 10x more cost-effective than other models. My goal is to triple this impact in the coming 3–5 years.
Wow! Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who has impacted this cause?
My own mentor Brian, a successful executive (and now a serial mentor of social entrepreneurs and non-profit leaders!) has been an invaluable resource to me for the last few years. He helps me to articulate and define my goals, and challenges me to hold myself accountable for the results. His commitment to helping me grow, both personally and professionally, has shown me firsthand the transformative power of mentoring. I am inspired and compelled to pass it forward. I also know that he’s having this kind of life-changing impact on many others like me. The impact of his work resounds through his mentees and the communities and causes we serve.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
- Remember that we are part of a global community, so always engage with empathy, curiosity and generosity.
- Most of us are blessed with knowledge, skills, expertise, and the gift of time. Be ready and willing to help others who can benefit from this! Skills-based volunteering is an amazing way to use your own experience and professional assets to give back. Several companies around the world are investing in offering such opportunities to their employees, I urge professionals to make time to leverage these opportunities.
- Governments should invest in mentoring solutions as a key component to fuel economic growth. Supporting entrepreneurs is the first step to supporting small local businesses. One such example is the State of New York, a partner of MicroMentor, who uses our technology to run a state-wide mentorship platform called BusinessMentorNY. They have been trailblazers in making mentorship a priority for small businesses in the State.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Being an effective leader, particularly as a woman, means not apologizing for your choices in life or business. I often tell young women and aspiring women leaders to Lead like a Woman. Don’t try to lead like anyone else. Leverage your empathy and compassion. Have relentless focus on results, care fiercely about your team and use your position to advocate for inclusion.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Pursue joy, not wealth.
- People would rather be around someone who is real rather than someone who is perfect.
- Every challenge presents an opportunity for growth — a tough situation, person, or interaction — they all have something they can teach us if we choose to explore it.
- Don’t limit yourself — set audacious goals!
- Follow through with your commitments. Do what you say you’ll do.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. — Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou is exactly right. If you have had a mentor or someone who has advocated for you, and your life is just a little better for it, take a moment to thank them. And, if you find yourself stuck, as I sometimes find myself, there is help.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Your work is making a massive positive impact on the planet, thank you so much!