Topic 1

Introduction to the concept of Coaching and Mentoring

Definition

Coaching, which was first used as a method to create EPI operational groups, is defined as an interactive process aimed at accelerating the pace of development and improving the performance of individuals or organisations. According to the International Coach Federation (ICF), coaching is an interactive process that helps individuals or organisations accelerate growth and improve performance.

Although the coaching approach in the agricutlural, agrifood and agritourism sector plays an important role in the economic and social development of rural areas, there is a dearth or very limited scale of research projects, especially addressed to women entrepreneurs and targeted to their training needs and gaps in the specific traditionally ‘male-dominated’ sector (Parzonko et Krzyżanowska, 2021). Coaching constitutes a collaborative process meticulously crafted to alter an individual’s cognitive perceptions and behavioral patterns, thereby augmenting their efficacy and overall contentment. Within the realm of established social science research, coaching predominantly functions as a pivotal instrument for individual or organizational advancement (Theeboom et al., 2014). In this context, the focus is shifted not on developing hard, technical skills in the agritourism, agrifood, agricutlural sector rather on empowering traineers to understand their strengths, identify areas for improvement, and being able to set a goal for their professional development and growth and the way to accomplish it (Makowska, 2013).

7 + 1 Benefits of Coaching for Female Entrepreneurs in the Agri-preneuship

  1. Increased Independence and Responsibility: Coaching empowers female entrepreneurs to take ownership of their decisions and actions, fostering a sense of independence and accountability within their ventures.
  2. Enhanced Self-Motivation: Coaching instills a heightened sense of self-motivation, driving entrepreneurs to set and achieve ambitious goals, thereby elevating their professional aspirations.
  3. Boosted Energy for Action: Through coaching, entrepreneurs gain renewed energy and drive, enabling them to take decisive and impactful actions in their businesses, propelling their initiatives forward.
  4. Enhanced Problem-Solving Skills: Coaching equips female entrepreneurs with effective problem-solving techniques, enabling them to tackle challenges and find innovative solutions.
  5. Expanded Networking Opportunities: Coaching provides female entrepreneurs with access to valuable networks, connecting them with industry experts, potential investors, and like-minded individuals.
  6. Improved Decision-Making Abilities: Through coaching, female entrepreneurs develop critical thinking skills and gain the confidence to make informed decisions that drive the growth of their agri-preneurship ventures.
  7. Enhanced Self-awareness: Coaching helps female entrepreneurs gain a deeper understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to capitalize on their strengths and address areas for improvement.
  8. Developed Flexibility and Adaptability: Coaching equips entrepreneurs with the ability to navigate change with ease. They become more flexible and adaptable, enabling them to adjust their strategies and operations according to evolving market demands and external circumstances.

Case Study Real-life Scenario: Cooperation Initiative - "E-networking - innovative solutions in agriculture" (Poland)

The “Cooperation” initiative, operating under the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, focuses on establishing and facilitating operational groups dedicated to innovation within the agricultural sector (Parzonko et Krzyżanowska, 2021). These groups are tasked with implementing innovative solutions encompassing technologies, processes, organizational methods, and marketing strategies. Innovation brokers, employed by agricultural advisory centers, play a pivotal role in forming these operational groups. Their responsibilities include assisting in the creation of European Innovation Partnerships (EIPs), fostering the exchange of expertise, and promoting best practices in innovation across agriculture, food production, forestry, and rural domains. An exemplary endeavor in this realm was the project “E-networking – innovative solutions in agriculture” initiated by brokers from the Pomeranian Agricultural Advisory Centre in Lubań. This pioneering project marked the first instance in Polish agricultural consultancy where a coaching approach utilizing ICT tools was employed. The project aimed to establish operational innovation groups and facilitate their project preparations.

The project “E-networking – innovative solutions in agriculture” involved a series of coaching e-meetings conducted through ICT tools, focusing on thematic areas aligned with participants’ needs and regional specificities. The process comprised four distinct stages:

  1. Initiation and Participant Segmentation: In the initial phase, an e-marketing campaign was executed to publicize the initiative via community forums and industry platforms. Subsequently, meetings with innovation brokers in Lubań were held to recruit participants. Thematic groups were formed based on participants’ interests, focusing on topics such as short food supply chains, environmental conservation, bioeconomy, climate change, and water efficiency.
  2. Cyclical E-meetings with Coaches: The second stage involved the organization of regular e-meetings within these thematic groups, guided by coaches. These sessions aimed to foster informal operational groups, dedicated to innovative pursuits.
  3. Operational Group Collaboration on Innovation Projects: In the third phase, operational groups engaged in collaborative efforts on innovation projects. Facilitated by coaching processes, participants attended a series of e-meetings to refine and implement their innovative initiatives.
  4. Project Application Support: The fourth and final stage focused on assisting participants in the preparation of project applications. This support was crucial for their submissions in the fourth call of the “Cooperation within RDP 2014-2020” activity.

This structured approach, marked by e-meetings and coaching methodologies, showcased the program’s commitment to fostering innovation and collaboration among agricultural stakeholders, underpinning the broader objectives of the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020.

Lessons Learnt from the Cooperation Initiative

This section is based on the evaluation of the programme, which also constitutes the first effort of measuring the impact of a coaching programme in the agricultural sector (Parzonko & Krzyżanowska, 2021).

A critical observation was made regarding the dropout of 51 individuals from the surveyed population. The primary reasons identified were time constraints and a lack of comprehension about the coaching concept. This underscores the lack of agri-preneurs’ awareness on what coaching methods is, as well as the need for flexible scheduling to accommodate participants’ time commitments.

Participants emphasized the significance of a partnership-based relationship between the coach and the entrepreneur. Effective coaching, according to the feedback, involves supporting the entrepreneur in developing their own solutions tailored to their needs, rather than merely providing advice. This highlights the need for coaches to exhibit commitment, establish trust, and possess extensive knowledge, particularly in psychology, to foster a conducive coaching environment.

The feedback from participants withdrawing from the project due to a lack of understanding of coaching concepts highlights the importance of clear communication. Projects employing coaching methodologies should invest in robust orientation and information dissemination to ensure participants comprehend the coaching process, its benefits, and their roles within it.

Time constraints emerged as a significant barrier for participation. Future projects utilizing coaching should consider flexible scheduling options, accommodating participants’ diverse schedules and commitments. This flexibility can enhance engagement and retention rates, ensuring a more inclusive and effective coaching experience.