NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 16 – This week, hundreds of Mandela Washington Fellows have gathered in Nairobi to celebrate the graduation of the outgoing 2015 fellows.
A couple of things have come up during their panel discussions on what it takes to start a business – most of these fellows have created impact in their societies especially through entrepreneurship – and to create the kind of impact they seek in their different roles.
Finding a mentor was one of the key ingredients most of them said was crucial in creating a successful start-up.
Below is what we took away from that discussion by the fellows on what a mentor is, the importance of having a mentor and other mentorship related queries. (The mentors included Jackson Saya from Kenya, Hana Ayele from Ethiopia, JB Kyabaggu from Uganda, Mamu Aganze from DRC and David Malual from South Sudan).
A mentor is a person who takes care of a less experienced person by modelling positive behaviour and at the same time building trust. Broken down, a mentor has more expert experience in a field and uses that knowledge to train a less experienced person.
So who qualifies to be a good mentor? According to Saya from Kenya, a mentor should be someone who has gone ahead and gained independence experience in a field. “Therefore, ensure the person you choose as a mentor is someone who has experience; they have gone ahead and faced challenges, failed and came back up and made it.”
The fellows however explain that it is not necessary for the person to have already made it, but they should at least be on their way to making it. “If they are a couple of miles ahead of you, that means they know more than you do, which is still play in a mentor.”
It is also clearly brought out that even before you start a business venture, ensure you identify a mentor that you can trust beforehand. This is because as a start-up, you are basically working on assumptions, which is never a good thing when starting a business.
“Unlike you, the mentor knows what is on the ground, he can probably predict what you will find. Hence, find one before hand and use their knowledge as this will cushion you against several problems that they know about but you don’t.”
But it shouldn’t be a relationship based on money. Drawn from the discussions, many people seek mentors with the hope of getting monetary help, which the fellows shun.
Should a mentor be on the same field as you are? According to the fellows, it helps much more if a mentor is from the same field as the one you are hoping to go into. However, if you find that they have in depth knowledge and serve as a good guide but aren’t from your field, then the field does not matter.
“As long as they are focused and have admirable traits that go well with what you are looking for, then you are good to go.”
On where to find a mentor, it can be anywhere. Figure out the people you admire and approach them. If they turn you down, do not give up, seek out another person. It could be your supervisor at the office, the editor you look up, the assistant sales manager at a company you admire. Seek them out diligently and use the most of that relationship.