Taking the Me out of Mentorship

Can I start with something corny and say you can not have mentorship without ME? No? Ok. On a serious note I wanted to talk about my mentorship journey and how it’s really not about me. Which in part was a large reason why I hesitated to call myself a mentor or even enter into official mentorship programs because what did I have to offer? I recently completed a mentorship  Training and workshop program with VC4A (https://vc4a.com) called the Mentor Driven Capital program Zambia 2020.  I  have a  profile on the site  (https://vc4a.com/members/mukuka-chanda/) which shows my mentor badge and received my certificate recently. I was so excited to participate and I did a lot of learning and my mentee Mubita actually made me learn a lot more about the process of being a mentor and what I could do to foster and honest and beneficial mentee and mentor relationship.

To give this story some background, I must explain how my mentorship journey started. Quite by accident. I am now at a place where I accept that I can be a valuable mentor to people within my industry.  One of the people who is constantly reminding me of mentee value is Mama Bow. One day she jokingly referred to me as her mentor, well at least I thought she was joking. I have always thought mentors have an important role to play to guide and assist where they can for those who need it.  I also thought that to be a mentor you had to be on a few boards, own your own business or be highly successful in your field. Add in a few professional awards and other accolades and you get the picture of what i felt a mentor should be. I have experience in the digital media industry in Zambia, tons of it. Sometimes when you don’t put yourself up for the awards or you aren’t seen, you wonder does what I do matter? Do I matter?

But you do matter and your work does too. The professional awards are nice. An acknowledgement of work you have put in by the people in your industry, your peers. However you also have to divorce yourself from the idea of receiving praise and accolades as a way to value your work. I had to do this to accept that I could be a valuable mentor. However I also had serendipity play it’s part. Months prior to the mentorship program I had reconnected with a work friend who needed advice. I acted as a sounding board for some of the professional challenges she was having. A month or two later she surprised me by sharing my work and in it called me her mentor.  Following from that I had three or four other people who I came across and I became a sounding board and gave advice where I could. Each person in a by the way manner mentioned me as a mentor. Even though we had no prior discussion to me being a mentor. I was pleasantly surprised.

One day my mentee Kay sent me a message asking me to apply for the VC4A mentorship program. I was hesitant but I applied and waited to hear if I was going to be selected. I was.  The program and the mentorship experience led me to experience a few things:

  • Mentor a promising startup
  • Access to peer group mentor sessions
  • Access to mentorship guide and online training materials
  • Access to resident experts on corporate matchmaking & investment readiness
  • Access to promising startup companies looking for angel investment

My favourite part of the program was the peer group mentorship sessions. Every call required us to share our experiences and I believe that aside from your own mentorship experience hearing from others and the successes and challenges they were experiencing, made me introspective and look at mentorship differently.  I  loved that each mentee was paired with a mentor who could provide what they needed in that period but also a mentor whose characteristics/personality also fit with the chosen mentee.  It was also a new experience to mentor digitally (due to CoVID19). However that also addressed challenges (finding the time to slow down and really talk to each other) and brought about solutions (realising that a mentee doesn’t always just need mentorship in the particular thing they came to you for but may also need guidance in other ways).

Overwhelmingly my experience with the program and prior to that as an unofficial mentor (for the last 9 months) has taught me to take the ME out of mentorship. My apprehension to be a mentor centred my fears and what I thought a mentor should be, instead of focusing on what a mentee needed from me. I have learned a lot more from my mentees about what it is to be a good mentor, what people actually need and to take each mentee on at their own pace.

Are you a mentor or a mentee? What has been your experience? What challenges have you found with digital mentorship?

Thank you to Melissa, Bertil, Simunza and George for the experience.