Expanding the Bahraini Economy Through Business Mentorship

Monday, June 27, 2022

Professional Education

A mentorship session in March 2022 between mentor Ammar Awachi, CEO of Taha International (left), and mentee Nezar Salhieh, founder of Quality Systemtechnik, a manufacturing enterprise in Bahrain. (Image courtesy of CIPE)

As part of a new program to boost entrepreneurship in Bahrain, WDI is supporting a focused and personalized mentorship program

Similar to the other natural resource-based economies in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, the Bahraini economy relies primarily on the oil industry and the public sector. However, with the strategic vision of the Bahraini government to reduce reliance on oil revenues through private sector growth and investment, that’s set to change. Bahrain is working to diversify its economy in sectors such as services, manufacturing and technology by enabling entrepreneurs and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in those fields to scale up their businesses.

The William Davidson Institute (WDI) at the University of Michigan is supporting a new project funded by the United States Department of State and implemented by the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) in collaboration with a consortium of partners. The project seeks to unleash the growth potential of Bahraini MSMEs — an objective that has frequently brought WDI and CIPE together through projects in the past.

The consortium members include Tenmou – a leading Bahraini angel investment network and ecosystem builder, the U.S.-Bahrain Business Council (USBBC) of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Bahrain, and the Bahraini SME Society, in addition to WDI and CIPE. The consortium is part of a larger advisory body named the Steering Committee that involves leaders from the public and private sector in Bahrain who provide guidance and support to the implementers throughout the project’s lifecycle. The consortium is building a mentorship program, bolstering commercial dialogue between the U.S. and Bahrain centered around the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), delivering an investment education program with a gender lens, as well as facilitating public-private dialogue around access to finance. Each aspect of the program is essential to its success, with each partner bringing unique capabilities and perspectives. WDI has contributed its deepest expertise to the mentorship program and gender lens component of the investment education program.


Mentorship is at the core of the program in Bahrain — and WDI has long been a trusted leader in developing global mentorship projects. “We believe in the power of mentorship and have seen its impact time and again in the entrepreneurial community,” said Amy Gillett, Vice President of Education at WDI. The team has run mentorship programs across the world, including on a previous project in Bahrain and a recent one in Turkey. WDI is also home to the Entrepreneurship Development Center, a group of educators dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship through dynamic programming.

To unlock their growth potential, they need to enhance their technical skills, increase access to funding, as well as explore the possibility of attracting investors or partners, and these are among the mentor-mentee discussion topics.

For the current project in Bahrain, WDI first developed a mentor toolkit with guidance on how to be a successful mentor, including how to provide effective feedback, and build productive relationships with mentees. “Sometimes mentees don’t realize what their needs are until they start answering questions from mentors,” explained Kristin Babbie Kelterborn, Senior Project Manager of the Entrepreneurship Development Center at WDI. “What obstacles have you overcome? What challenges are you facing? What growth opportunities do you want to explore?” she explained. By exploring these questions together, mentees and mentors can build a fruitful path forward in their mentorship relationship.

The first mentorship cohort is running through July 2022, with five experienced business owners and entrepreneurs serving as mentors to 25 motivated mentees. The mentees all run established businesses, which are in the growth phase. “They want to expand and increase their market share, develop new services and products,” said Mohammed Al Saeedi, Program Officer for the Middle East and North Africa at CIPE. “To unlock their growth potential, they need to enhance their technical skills, increase access to funding, as well as explore the possibility of attracting investors or partners, and these are among the mentor-mentee discussion topics.”

The second cohort is planned to start at the end of summer 2022.


The program’s mentors are all local volunteers and deeply committed to improving the business landscape of the country. Al Saeedi shares one of reasons for their dedication: “They believe success is not individual.” These mentors and mentees understand the key to driving the Bahraini economy forward is cooperation and collaboration. The networks built within the program are meant to be deep, and the hope is that they’ll also be lasting. “The good thing about mentorship is that it’s a one-on-one relationship. It’s not generic,” he said.

The mentorship relationship requires tremendous effort from both parties. The first cohort includes five mentors and 25 mentees, and every mentor meets with each of their mentees once a month over a three-month period, providing technical guidance, serving as a sounding board and connecting mentees with individuals in their network. WDI is supporting the mentors as they guide their mentees by providing them with training and resources on how to be effective mentors.

While the mentors provide a lot of specialized business advice, they’re also there to motivate their mentees. Mahmood Abdulsamad, a fitness studio owner and one of the program’s mentors, shared the advice he most wanted to impart to his mentees: “Failure is not the end. Believe in yourself, be different, fail until you succeed and do not measure success by money.”


The mentors and mentees also will be given the opportunity to participate in a powerful gender lens investing virtual training session. In an often male-dominated investor circle, providing awareness of and training on how to apply a gender lens to decisions and processes at any stage in the investment cycle can help advance the business and financial performance of the company, return on investment for the investor and gender equality in the workplace and broader community. It’s a goal that CIPE, Tenmou and WDI have taken seriously as the consortium moves this project forward — and one that WDI has been committed to for years.

“We’ve been dedicated to women’s entrepreneurship development for the past 15 years, so anything we can do to promote women’s entrepreneurship, advance women-owned businesses and help equip women entrepreneurs with new skills is a great fit for our mission,” said Gillett.

In addition to offering the gender lens investing session for entrepreneurs, WDI will also offer a session tailored for Bahraini investors through the project’s Investor Education initiative, which aims to broaden the pool of both investors and invested companies.

The mentorship program – rounded out by gender lens investment and access to finance, along with the U.S.-Bahrain commercial dialogue focused on harnessing the power of the FTA in the bilateral trade relationship – is contributing to the Bahraini startup ecosystem. The sector is critical to the economic growth of Bahrain.

Gillett can already see how the mentorship project in Bahrain will impact entrepreneurial programs across the globe. “It’s continuous learning for us. We’ll apply what we learn from this program and further develop and refine our tools.”

About WDI

At the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan, unlocking the power of business to provide lasting economic and social prosperity in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) is in our DNA. We gather the data, develop new models, test concepts and collaborate with partners to find real solutions that lead to new opportunities. This is what we mean by Solving for Business—our calling since the Institute was first founded as an independent nonprofit educational organization in 1992. We believe societies that empower individuals with the tools and skills to excel in business, in turn generate both economic growth and social freedom—or the agency necessary for people to thrive.

WDI’s Education team works with world-class instructors from leading universities — including our home at the University of Michigan —to develop and deliver programs. Through our rich faculty network, cultivated over the past 25+ years, we deploy experts with both deep subject matter expertise and relevant regional experience.

About CIPE

The Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE; works at the intersection of democratic and economic development, partnering with business associations, chambers of commerce, think tanks and other organizations to implement homegrown, business-led solutions to local development challenges. CIPE’s mission is to strengthen democracy through private enterprise and market-oriented reform, fulfilling a vision of a world where democracy delivers the freedom and opportunity for all to prosper. Founded in 1983 and based in Washington, DC, CIPE currently implements programs in more than 80 countries around the world.

Media Contact:

Scott Anderson, WDI Communications Manager

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