YESYouLead: Free online mentoring platform for aspiring entrepreneurs

The US Government’s Agency for International Development (USAID) recently launched a free online mentoring platform to connect emerging entrepreneurs with experienced business experts. 

The platform connects aspiring entrepreneurs across Sri Lanka with more than 100 experienced business leaders and subject matter experts to help them navigate unprecedented challenges and support the long-term success of their businesses. 

Through a partnership between USAID’s YouLead project and the Sasnaka Sansada Foundation, this platform matches entrepreneurs with mentors who volunteer their time and expertise to help businesses succeed. 

In conversation with USAID Mission Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives Reed Aeschliman, he told Brunch that mentoring is very often the missing link in the success of many start-ups, especially for those owned by women or located outside the urban centres with limited access to networking opportunities and support facilities. 

When talking about the benefits of such a programme, he commented: “USAID’s YouLead project is strengthening entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka by giving business owners an online platform to discuss their plans and receive objective guidance from experts, free of charge.” 

He also shared that in order to ensure long-term sustainability, a dedicated team is in place to onboard mentors and mentees, moderate the mentor-mentee engagement, and recruit reputed mentors onto the network. 

App Launch

YouLead works on educating youth in the vocation skills demanded by the market, by partnering with the private sector to take leadership on creating a world-class workforce, laying a foundation of skills for a lifetime of employment, as well as training career counsellors and giving them the tools to help youth make better career decisions. 

The programme also aims to give youth the skills to run their own enterprises while helping them to build inclusive accelerators that nurture new enterprises. Additionally, they provide mentors and coaches for entrepreneurs. 

Another admirable aspect they took into consideration is how difficult it is for entrepreneurs to obtain funding, so their programme also includes training loan officers to extend credit to youth-led businesses. 

We also spoke to Sasnaka Sansada Foundation President Hasitha Wijesundara on what this platform was inspired by; he commented that although there is an abundance of entrepreneurial spirit in Sri Lanka, many entrepreneurs lack the experience to see their ideas through and lose focus when dealing with the complexities of running a business. He explained that through this mentoring platform, they will be able to better match eager entrepreneurs with experienced mentors and increase the success rate of start-ups in Sri Lanka through a structured process. 

State Ministry of Skills Development, Vocational Education, Research, and Innovations Secretary Deepa Liyanage noted: “We need to disseminate the success stories of entrepreneurs, their best practices, and strategies they adapted to navigate through challenges as part of the entrepreneur training and educational process.” 

On the same topic, she explained that mentoring provides a one-on-one platform for this process, and also extended her gratitude to USAID, Sasnaka Sansada, and all the mentors for collaborating to create this nationally accessible service for entrepreneurs. 

During the launch event,  Brunch learned that YouLead is funded through a $ 18 million, seven-year grant from the US and implemented by the International Executive Service Corps (IESC) to improve vocational education and training, link youth to productive careers, and strengthen entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka. Sasnaka Sansada Foundation is a community organisation that has helped increase the potential of Sri Lanka’s youth since 1997. 

This project is one component of the longstanding partnership between the American and Sri Lankan people to support self-reliance and promote a healthy, educated, and employed population.