Someone to help

The world is big out there...


Olivia Olarte-Ulherr

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Published: Sat 21 Apr 2012, 10:18 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 1:49 AM

And despite our bravado, we sometimes feel inadequate of meeting expectations and succeeding. We wish there is someone out there to show us the ropes and how to overcome the challenges. Exactly the sentiment of many “little sisters” who luckily found that someone in their “big sisters”.

The Big Sister/Little Sister mentoring programme was started last year by the Women’s Excellence Group (WEG) with the objective of empowering women here, regardless of their cultural background and careers. It is the only programme of its kind in the UAE.

The WEG was established in 2010 by a group of professional women in Abu Dhabi who are leaders in their respective fields. It operates under the direction of the Abu Dhabi International Centre for Excellence (ADICOE) and the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ADCCI).

For the pilot phase, 40 women from different workplaces were invited to participate. Based on their qualifications, they were given a big sister or little sister form to fill in.

“The big sister is wiser and more experienced person who acts as a sounding board for her little sister, while the little sister is someone who wants to learn from the experience and wisdom of her big sister,” explained Gulizar Jonian, chairwoman of the WEG.

The big sisters have to state the type of skills that they could bring into the mentoring programme while the little sisters were specifically asked their desire for improvement or advancement in life.

“From here, we start the matching process,” said Jonian. She added that sisters were paired based on a set of criteria including their life and professional experiences, and educational background — not an easy task as it turned out.

Nationality is not an issue. For the first batch, the programme comprised Canadian, British, American, Sudanese, Yemeni, Indian and Emirati women working in various fields including educators, banking, lawyers, architect and marketing.

“We want to include different industries covering wide spectrum,” said Jonian, who is an architect. The three-month long programme requires commitment from both sides and they must be prepared to devote four hours each month to the mentoring process either by meeting in person, by phone or by e-mail.

“These are working ladies who are very busy, so it is up to them to decide where or how they want to meet. We have a big sister who travel a lot and have to do the mentoring by e-mail, which is okay as long as it works,” Jonian cited.

And to keep them on track, they were given guidelines “to let them know what we expect of them”.

In order for the mentoring process to succeed, however, the little sister “must be willing to be candid and honest with her big sister. She should use this time to discuss her career path, any professional issues she may have or her training needs.”

To oversee their progress, each pair of sisters has been appointed a supervisor. The supervisor also ensures that each sister is fulfilling her obligation.

“It takes commitment for this to succeed,” pointed out Jonian.

It may sound like a simple process but it certainly is not. Jonian admitted that some matches did not work and has to discontinue the programme.

But this did not deter the Abu Dhabi women who already planned to progress the mentoring programme into its second batch this month. The non-profitable group plans to expand its initial 20 pairs but to a still “manageable” number.

“We saw that many people are interested. This time, we’ll also welcome new graduates,” said Jonian.

There is more to be gained from the programme, according to Jonian. “For the more experienced people, this does not mean we stop learning. You might learn from a mentee. They might highlight a point that you have not known before or forgot about. The mentor also has the satisfaction of passing on, showing the way to a junior person and making them learn from your experience.”

“There’s lots of joy in giving,” the WEG head expressed.

Jonian said there are people who are very good in their field but they don’t have the tool or confidence to mirror that, and they can be helped by their peers.

“The young generation, keep learning and learn from everything in life and from other people’s experiences. Don’t be afraid to go after your goal and be persistent,” she advised.

Volunteer women who feel they can contribute and benefit from the WEG mentoring programme can e-mail

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