Mentors, mentees and the method of learning together

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Canada’s plant-based food, feed and ingredients sector is built on a foundation of shared expertise. Often, this occurs through collaborative partnerships and projects aimed at furthering R&D or building capacity within the sector, but it’s just as effective when brought about through other channels, including mentor-mentee relationships.

“Fundamentally, the concept of clustering and the concept of growing clusters, and from the very beginning of the formulation of the whole Protein Industries Canada strategy, there was a concept of companies who were involved and maybe being a little bit larger, more experienced, providing the benefit of their expertise to bring along small and medium enterprises,” AGT Foods and Ingredients President and CEO Murad Al-Katib said.

Al-Katib has seen the benefits of a mentorship relationship firsthand, as each a mentor and mentee. When first starting AGT Food and Ingredients, his mentors were key to helping him establish the business, particularly as his background was in international trade rather than agrifood processing. While he continues to learn from others, his growing expertise in the area has allowed him to help others learn and grow, including his Protein Industries Canada project partners.

He finds both sides of the relationship to be so beneficial that he encourages a mentoring atmosphere within his company, which has helped to both attract and retain talent.

“Those that take an employee under their wing and develop them into the next future leader, there's a lot of credit that we give at the senior leadership level for that. I view that as very, very desirable traits in my leadership,” Al-Katib said. “From that, then you have your future leaders already apparent. You don't even have to have much worry about who it is because you've always got people coming up.”

While he’s seen a similar trend occur throughout the sector, Al-Katib believes there’s both room and a need for increased mentorship. He explained that as new talent enters the sector, it’s important they have access to the knowledge and resources that came before them, in order to learn from and build off of what’s already been accomplished—or from what didn’t work.

Also important, however, is fostering a sense of mentorship between sectors. This was important to Al-Katib’s own career development; he has learned a lot from others in the agrifood sector while establishing AGT Food and Ingredients, but he said it’s also been important that he connect with and learn from leaders in other areas, including finance and business management.

Determining who best to connect with was largely based on a self-assessment of his skills and gaps in knowledge, which he said is the best approach anyone looking for a mentor to take.

“If you know what you're looking for then it's a lot easier to find a mentor, because you're trying to plug a specific hole or develop a specific contact network or a specific skill,” Al-Katib said. “I would argue that your quality of mentor rises as your preparation rises … do you want to just throw something at a wall and see what sticks, or do you want to take one little piece and put it directly on the wall?”

Recognizing your skills and needs alone won’t make the mentorship successful, however. Al-Katib stressed that a mentoring relationship is a two-way street, and that the mentee needs to bring as much to the table as the mentor.

“As a mentee, you also have to deliver value back to your mentor. It's a two-way street,” said Al-Katib. “That value might just be somebody who's really, really committed to the work that you're doing with them, so it might just be that all I'm looking for from the … the mentee is for them to come prepared so that when they're using my time, you know they ultimately

Both sides seizing this opportunity to learn from each other expands their own knowledge, but it also helps strengthen Canada’s plant-based food, feed and ingredients sector as a whole, thanks to the development of new foods and ingredients that come about as a result of shared knowledge and a drive to go further together.