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Growing with the help of mentors

Growing with the help of mentors

Young leaders speak on the value of being mentored

Oluwabusayomi Sotunde reports on the benefits of mentoring including how to find and approach a mentor, and make the most of the mentoring experience.

When tribal violence struck out in Kenya after disputed elections and economic disenfranchisement in 2007/08, youths from low-income families were used as tools for carrying out destructive activities. In response, Eddy Gicheru Oketch founded Peace for Africa and Economic Development, (PAD) in 2008 as a 17-year-old high school student.

Now known as Ongoza – a Swahili word which means ‘lead’ – the Nairobi-based organisation is using economic empowerment to bring and sustain peace in East Africa. Ongoza mentors youth using sector-specific experts to build on the existing strengths of youth group members while connecting them to resources and capital. So far, Ongoza has helped over 40 businesses. About 250,000 young people – from Kenya, Mozambique and Uganda – have also benefitted from its peace programme.

Eddy did not attain the aforementioned successes alone. He was mentored, continuously. Eddy is a product of several mentorship programmes, most of which offered him a different set of skills.

“I met different people and that was an opportunity for me to see the diversity of things that have been done in other areas of solving the same problem – what was working in another country and what idea can be borrowed from another community to solve a similar problem.”

Getting mentored             

The primary step is coming to accept that you need mentorship.  

“Know what you want because sometimes if you do not know what you want, you can end up being everything for everyone,” says Eddy. “Knowing where your interests lie makes it easier for your mentors to point you towards some resources.”

Another step is to be willing to make mistakes.

“With mistakes you can learn and get feedback from your mentors.” Speaking from experience, Eddy says when he started Ongoza he assumed that the biggest problem for young people to do business was essentially money. But he was wrong.

“After following our mentor’s advice to do a re-assessment on the youths we work with, we realised that to survive, they needed business training and network for investment. In the end, this has helped to make us and the groups we work with stronger.”

Byron Geogidius, the co-founder of Picha Tamu. Photo credit: Ongoza

Byron Geogidius, the Co-founder of Picha Tamu. Photo credit: Ongoza

What can mentors do?

Picha Tamu is one of the youth groups that enjoys mentorship and guidance from Ongoza.

“Before Ongoza’s intervention, we really can’t call what we have an organisation. We had the idea but it wasn’t properly structured,” says Byron Geogidius, the Co-founder of Picha Tamu – a youth-led theatre group turned social enterprise in Naivasha, Kenya.

After getting training in entrepreneurship, agri-preneurship and financial management from Ongonza three years ago, Byron says Picha Tamu has become “more mature in what it does”. It has also helped Picha Tamu refine its business strategy, grow financially and diversify its youth-focused programmes to accommodate those who are not skilled in arts.

Like Byron, most of those who have enjoyed growth and success keep regular tabs on their mentors. Emily Woods, the Co-founder of Sanivation in Naivasha, believes that having a formal mentor to talk to once every three months is incredibly important.

“We keep finding new ones who are expert in different areas. The more people you can get on board to help you, the better,” she says. “We try to get Sanivation staff mentors as well, for people who are experts in operations are a great, great resource. ”

She shares how having a mentor has helped her grow personally.

“I am an engineer by training and by experience so I tend to look at a problem from an engineering perspective. And there is no one perspective to look at a problem. One of my mentors is a business consultant. When I ask her questions and try to get a feedback, she tells me ‘Emily, that’s not even the right question. You already asked me a question giving me an engineering answer. You need to be more open and take a step back.’ So she really helped me look at the problem in an open field.”

Approaching a mentor

Rasheeda Yehuza is the Co-founder of Tech Needs Girls – a social enterprise that has mentored over 2,000 girls in Ghana and Burkina Faso on how to code. She says one effective way is to find a suitable mentor is read a lot about whatever it is you are looking for a mentor to help you with.

A similar approach is to look for someone who has achieved some of your goals, learn more about what they do, and connect with them on social media.

“Once connected, I get in touch via direct message and let them know how much they inspire me and the similar goals I want to achieve that they have already achieved. That creates a platform to request for guidance.” Rasheeda adds, “People are generally very nice and will jump at any opportunity to help.”

Young people sitting comparing notes

Youth participants at an Ongoza training session. Image credit: Ongoza

Mentees are future mentors                 

Apart from learning and growing under a mentor’s guidance, the mentee and mentor can benefit from each other.

According to Rasheeda, “Mentors learn from their mentees as they figure out new ways of approaching and solving problems. Mentees, on the other hand will have the opportunity to navigate their career without repeating the mistakes their mentor made.”

She adds, “Mentees are able to grow under the mentor's guidance and experiment with creative solutions to problems within a safe and supportive environment. This enables mentors become conscious about what they teach their mentees leading to building long and trusting relationships.” 

Making the most of being mentored  

After mentorship, what next? Incorporate.

“When one has been mentored, build on it and don’t remain constant. That way, you will be able to grow and sustain what you have gained,” says Byron who has grown from being a mentee to a mentor.

For Eddy, one of Byron’s mentors, one of the ways to utilise a mentorship opportunity effectively is to set up small goals and develop them consistently. “The more you achieve these small goals, the more you build a larger strength,” he says.

Emily Woods, Co-founder of Sanivation

"The more people you can get on board to help you, the better.”

Emily Woods

Rasheeda Yehuza, Co-founder, Tech Need Girls

“Mentors learn from their mentees as they figure out new ways of approaching and solving problems. Mentees, on the other hand will have the opportunity to navigate their career without repeating the mistakes their mentor made.”

Rasheeda Yehuza, Co-founder, Tech Need Girls