The Mentor’s Toolbox: Mentoring Strategy

One of the keys to a successful mentoring program is having a clear strategy that covers every aspect of the whole mentoring process. The strategy is basically a plan that shows how the mentoring will be done right from initiating the program to the end of it. It defines the overall approach to be used, length of the program, areas of focus and how problems and/or conflicts will be handled, if they arise.

You can map out the strategy by first breaking the mentoring process into stages or phases with goals for each stage and methods to be used at each stage. For instance a two-year work-place mentoring program in a technical environment can be broken into four 6-month periods during which specific skill areas are explored thoroughly. The first two periods may involve face to face interaction where mentor and mentee do tasks together or spend a lot of time together in discussion. The third period may involve field/site visits for the mentee to observe practically how things are done, and the last period may involve assigning new tasks for the mentee to complete independently and give weekly reports.

Strategies may also vary from simple to complex depending on the nature of the mentoring process. For example the strategy for mentoring a teenage girl on general life skills may be as simple as meeting once a week to discuss specific areas of concern and answer her questions. The weekly discussion points can be pre-determined or can be raised spontaneously as you go. On the other hand, the strategy for mentoring college undergraduates may include things like experimental projects, library research, counseling sessions and so on, which are more detailed and written down.

A good mentoring strategy should have the following elements:

  1. Clear goals to be achieved by the time the program ends. It could be a single goal or more than one, depending on the needs of the mentee(s). Having clear goals will help both mentor and mentee to focus and not deviate into other matters that may not be of any use to the mentoring process. Goals also provide a benchmark against which to evaluate the success or otherwise of the mentoring process.
  2. Methods to be used and when, e.g. discussion groups, site visits, research, etc.
  3. Time scales. Although some mentoring relationships can go on for life, most formal mentoring is done within a specified period of time during which certain goals must be met. Putting time scales also allows for reviews or evaluations to be done at the end of the period so that a decision can be made whether to ‘release’ or extend.
  4. Clear roles/responsibilities for both mentor and mentee. This enables mutual respect, which is important in any kind of relationship. Each party knows what is expected of them and this reduces the chances of misunderstandings.

LET WOMEN BE…

Let women think

Let women write

Let women travel wherever they will

Let women weep

Let women feel

Let women be what they are meant to be

Let the covering fall off

And their faces be seen

Each face as made by the hands of God

Not shy or timid or frail or fearful

But strengthened in the knowledge of their true identity

Let women run

Let women stand

Let their fears be trapped forever in His Grace

Let women grow

Let women change

Let women be discovered as the oasis in a desert

Let women fly like an airplane aloft

Let women soar to their greatest heights

Let women see much further than the sky

Let women dance

Let women sing

Let women carry each others’ burdens

And lay down their own at the foot of the cross

Let women be willing to wipe each others’ tears

And let go of hurts and wounds down the years

If you know any woman, any lady, any female

Then tell her to be free, to be great and to be her best

Let her know there’s a definite place for her

To be everything that God meant for her to be.

A Short Story

She sat down on a stool in the middle of the room, tired and weary, tears almost flowing from sad eyes. Household items were scattered all around her as she tried to sort out the mess her children had created the previous evening before dosing off to sleep one by one on the floor. The front of her light-colored blouse had wet streaks acquired from washing last night’s utensils this morning, and she still had to mop the kitchen, clean the hen-house and cook lunch for the kids to be carried to their school just before they got out for lunch. In the afternoon she will have to rush to the market for more vegetables, iron clothes, cook supper and wash the kids’ uniforms that have been worn the last three days.

“Wow!” she thought, “If something doesn’t give way soon I’ll simply go mad!”

Pamela was getting pretty tired of her daily routine not so much because it was a lot of work but because she felt unable to get to where she desired to be in life. The threatening tears were being triggered by a feeling of hopelessness that comes when one keeps going through the same cycles everyday with no apparent end in sight. Although she had a diploma in communications from a prestigious college she just couldn’t get a job, not even as a receptionist at least! The process of trying to get a job itself was wearing out her patience and strength, having spent so much on fare to and from town, airtime calling friends for favors, photocopy for her documents and certificates, and using the internet to surf for vacancies, all to no avail. Her close friends with whom she once shared endless cups of tea and warm uji in the evenings just before supper, now made sure to veer off the path leading to her house whenever they could. They used to gather after work and tell each other stories of how their day went and what their children were doing, but no more.  To make matters worse, her husband who used to be very liberal with money had suddenly taken to questioning every expense and reducing the cash he left for her each morning. Could a lady’s life get any worse?

With all the strength she could muster, she heaved herself upwards and looked to the ceiling as though help would come from there. A short plea escaped her lips, “God, help me get something to do. I need meaning in my life.” And with that she resumed her chores, eager to finish them as quickly as possible.

On her way to the market a few hours later, she met a friend whom she had last seen just after primary school. Lucy’s face lit up the moment she saw Pamela.

“Hey, where have you been all this time?”

“Oh, just around you know,” replied Pamela. She didn’t feel like having a long conversation and hoped that Lucy would be on her way as soon as possible.

“Do you have a few minutes? I’d like to tell you about something I am doing with women in this community.”

“Well, I’m on my way to the market…”

“It won’t take long, really, I promise,” pleaded Lucy.

Pamela hesitated slightly then said, “Okay, let’s talk as we walk along then.”

Lucy began to explain her initiative for helping women get back on their feet after suffering major setbacks in life. She had gathered fifteen of them and was training them in various basic skills that would enable them start small business and get extra income for themselves and their families. Lucy felt that Pamela should join them as soon as possible.

“Have you ever thought of starting a small business?” asked Lucy. “It’s not hard, and once you get established you can start saving money to do some of the things you would have wanted to do if you were earning a good salary.”

“Hmm, haven’t thought much about that. You see, it’s hard to raise the capital, and…”

“No, no, capital should not be your excuse my dear. All you need to do is make up your mind what you want to do, taking into account the skills and talents you know you have. Take time to sharpen those skills at this training center I’m telling you about then from there you start marketing yourself to those who are near, and polepole you grow!”

“If I join the centre, what would it cost me and how long before I can start a small business?”

“We charge minimum fees that covers only cost of materials and the trainer’s time. You can make arrangements to pay in installments and do one skill at a time. Most of the skills we teach have a duration of only three months.”

“That sounds okay to me. Give me your number so that I can call you when I am ready.”

“Great!” replied Lucy.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………

This story demonstrates how easily we can be the Good Samaritan that restores hope for someone out there who needs it. In mentoring people, we are not only imparting skills and knowledge, sometimes we are re-building something less tangible in the heart of another person – HOPE.

Mentoring: A Non-monetary Way of Giving Back

We all want to be able to give back to the community which brought us up in one way or the other. It is a good thing and should be an important goal for every human being. However, most of us think of ‘giving back’ as a monetary-clad option that requires a given financial outlay for it to be achieved. We think of how to set up an organization or purchase a machine or some device that will make life easier for others. These are very good ambitions but when you don’t have funds and you really want to help, what else can you do?

Giving back to society can be done in a number of different ways which may or may not include using your money. For instance, mentoring others in a skill or area of knowledge is one way to give back and it doesn’t have to cost even a penny. Just be available for someone else to lean on you, learn from you, pick your brains, get your advice, and generally get a feel of who you are and how you reached where you are. It’s that simple.

How do you do it?

Look for one person (or group of people if you are able to) who really needs a boost to get to where they are going. If you are good in a given area (you probably are) there’s always someone who is not as good as you but has the potential to get there. Offer them your time and open up your life to them so they can learn from you. You can choose to do this at a time convenient for you so that you don’t have to give up quality time for things important to you, e.g. family or business. Create a simple but flexible strategy that will work for you and the person being mentored.

Here are some tips:

  1. Start with meeting the person once a week or twice a month depending on your schedule and discuss ways in which the mentee can become better at what they do. Set specific goals for each meeting and if not achieved, review the meeting later and find out why the goals were not achieved.
  2. Follow up on any ‘homework’ that you give, research on any questions asked, and don’t leave anything hanging.
  3. Keep communication lines open. Agree on the mode of communicating, e.g. phone or email and stick to it unless something comes up that warrants a change. This enhances reliability on sharing information and/or concerns.
  4. Be as frank as possible with the mentee. Do not be shy about sharing your personal experiences, and be honest when correcting mistakes.

Can you think of someone who needs your time and attention? That’s the most it will take from you!

Mentoring Younger Women

I’ve thought of this many times before – how I’d love to teach younger women some of the things I have learnt while growing up. All of the mistakes I’ve made so far have been very painful; some I’d rather not acknowledge to anyone apart from God. However, I have learnt that my pain, when looked at through the eyes of wisdom, can easily be the stepping stone to someone else’s gain. In the ways in which I see my pain as gain, I see opportunities to edify another woman who needs to know that she doesn’t have to make all the mistakes I made. In fact, if I could really have my way, she wouldn’t make any mistakes at all. She would be perfect.

However, life does not always work that way. We do make mistakes often – some grievous, others less disastrous, but with consequences nonetheless. The hope we have is that we can influence a new generation by preparing them for later life. This will involve opening up our lives to let another woman look inside and learn what they need to learn.

Mentoring younger women needs to be a part of our Kenyan culture once again. My mother’s generation used to do it in their own way, especially when it came to preparation for marriage life. No wonder their marriages seemed to have less volatility. There was a lot of mutual understanding and cooperation between spouses such that even if they had major issues (which I’m sure they did) they dealt with them in a way that didn’t necessarily spell divorce. However, it’s not just marriage life that needs advance preparation. It’s everything else that encompasses a woman’s life from tips on career to choosing friends, dressing, self-expression, leadership, and a host of other things. Come to think of it, a lot of things that I consider to be my repertoire of life skills came from time I spent with other women e.g. older sisters, teachers, friends in college, and of course, my mother. That is not to say that this is the only channel of learning or wisdom for a girl but it is a vital one that will not only prepare her for adult life but will also communicate subtly that she is cared for.

I remember episodes of my childhood when I would spend time with my older sister (I have seven). I’d listen to her opinions of things in life and watch how she handled relationships with people, or how she made decisions about her education and career. She was always serious and practical, but also very compassionate and loved to help needy people. I learnt the value of helping others because she would always come to my rescue whenever I was in trouble, even if I did something very silly. She would often encourage me in my choice of career even when it seemed things wouldn’t work for me. As a result, I learnt to be strong and stable throughout life. I knew that someone always had my back.

If each of us could choose to ‘have someone’s back’ today, there would be a better experience of life, I’m sure of it! Could you do that?

Women’s Groups can be vehicles for mentoring

Women in Kenya are known to be adept at forming groups, organizations, chamas, clubs and all manner of gatherings for one cause or another. In fact, we are so good at it, we have managed to attract the attention of major financial institutions, donors and the government to either finance, support or provide input into our activities. Look at how banks like Equity, Co-operative and K-Rep have introduced and marketed products that specifically target women. These institutions seem to have noticed something significant about what women do when they come together and that we can no longer be ignored. It is said that whatever you do for a woman, whether she is a mother, sister, aunt, grandmother, or daughter, you have done for the whole family. Due to her nurturing and relationship attributes, she is more likely to draw everyone else into the loop of whatever benefit she is enjoying so that they are also blessed.

The reason why I’m saying all this is to remind us of our potential and opportunities as women, and to tie it in with mentoring. Take, for instance, the chamas we are so well-known for. How can we use these forums for mentoring? Is there a way we can devote some of our time to speak to girls in school and college concerning what we have learnt even within the chama? For instance, you could dedicate one of the monthly meetings to visit a school or children’s home and organize a talk, film, games, or other appropriate activity. You could choose to invite an expert in a certain field to guide the talk, e.g. a banker, an entrepreneur, a pastor, a career coach, etc. If it’s not a school or home, you could organize girls in a certain community or estate to gather at the nearest community center or hall and have your activities there. It may require some bit of financing but if you have a welfare kitty within the chama, you could dedicate a certain percentage towards mentoring activities and even have members contribute to it.

You could also invite your daughters and nieces for your meetings every once in a while. This is a great way for them to learn how to manage finances, understand some aspects of group leadership, learn new values and generally enjoy a special outing with mum or auntie.

Another good example is the self-help groups that are common in rural areas. Apart from the main goal of being a vehicle for raising the income of members and the community, it can also be a place where future business women are raised by transferring knowledge and skills to girls. This can be done during school holidays and can be a good strategy for keeping the girls away from idleness that leads to things like promiscuous behavior that causes early pregnancies.

For a long time we have pushed for women in this country to take leadership positions and yes, a lot of ground has been covered. We thank God for the women in parliament as well as the ones heading their own businesses and other organizations. However, I keep asking myself these questions: What about the next generation of women leaders? Have they been trained for leadership? Who is mentoring them to become great women who can be emulated in society?

The groups that we have formed as women are excellent existing structures that we can use to mentor the younger generation. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, let us use the resources that are already at our disposal to do something great. Let us move away from providing just for the present, to providing for the future, which is what makes us stand out as prudent.

Mentoring is not very far from us. It is right at the doorstep of our monthly gatherings. We just need to open our hearts to the idea, start where we are with what we have, and I’m sure we’ll be amazed at how much we can accomplish together.

Building relationships with the younger generation

 

I was once a writer for The Lily Review (Big Sister Corner) and wrote the following article which I believe fits very squarely here. I hope you enjoy it.

Recently, I was participating in a discussion on mentoring the youth and it occurred to those present that reaching out to the younger generation will require that we find a way of getting down to their level of thinking in order to build a rapport and understand them better. The youth today have unique mindsets that reflect their own experiences in the 21st century. They operate from a platform of high technology, faster access to information, a strong entrepreneurial spirit, and greater freedom of expression, among other things. They don’t blindly and quietly accept everything handed down to them but often prod issues and ask tough questions. They are generally a lot more ambitious, adventurous and attracted by hype. They also tend to be impatient in their approach to life, but nonetheless eager to know and explore new territories. The basic question in our minds during that discussion was, how can we build meaningful relationships with the youth in order to influence the direction of their lives?

Too many times we have approached the youth with ‘ready-made answers’ to their problems, effectively imposing what we know on them without due regard to their own perceptions of life. It’s an age-old approach borrowed from previous generations that adults always and automatically know better so the youth have nothing to say or contribute. I have been guilty of this more than once and I have had to learn through experience that the youth need a more sensitive and practical approach that involves incorporating their views into decision making, for example. Offering them opportunities to do things on their own, even if they make serious mistakes, is another better approach that enhances their learning experience.

Being able to mingle easily with the youth is a plus for anyone trying to reach out to them. Imagine holding an outreach program in one of the slums in Nairobi and then they begin to speak sheng and you have absolutely no idea what they are trying to say! One needs to be able to adapt to their environment so as to get closer to them. Sometimes you have to create some form of entertainment, e.g. sports, drama or music to attract them even if the main agenda is to have a serious discussion on life issues like HIV/AIDS or dropping out of school.

This is a generation that is seeking and waiting for answers. They are hungry for someone to look at them twice, share knowledge and experience, listen to their dreams and visions and walk them down the path of wisdom. For the young men, this amounts to a need for fathers while the young women need mothers to nurture and point them in the right direction. I’m not just talking about the normal parenting that mothers and fathers do for their children. It is something that goes way beyond that and fosters a special kind of relationship. Learning experiences are shared freely and knowledge is passed on that enables the youth to overcome obstacles and get closer to their vision in life.

Are you a mentor to the youth? What has been your experience in connecting with them?