by Eszter Ernst-Kurdi
Eszter Ernst-Kurdi, Training Coordinator, SIL Francophone Africa
In 2017 I conducted small-scale research with the participation of 41 students coming from 17 African countries; all involved in language development work with different organisations.
Two of the questions I asked in focus group discussions were:
- What kind of support do you need the most in your work?
- What would that support look like?
These two wordcloud images show the responses that were given by the English-speaking and the French-speaking groups:
As you can see, the top felt need was a mentor in both groups. But what did the participants have in mind when they referred to the support they needed the most as a mentor?
When asked to describe what this support would look like, the participants expressed the need for a mentor who:
- Understands their work and context
- Listens well
- Gives advice and feedback (both positive and negative)
- Helps to clarify what is expected of the mentee in their job within the organisation
- Explains the vision, the values and the unspoken rules of the organisation
- Models good leadership and management
- Does not inquire only about the mentee’s work but also shows interest in the mentee’s personal and spiritual development and family life (holistic approach)
- Develops a genuine relationship and keeps in touch
- Encourages the mentee
- Helps the mentee navigate conflict situations and cross-cultural issues.
Some quotes from the focus group discussions:
- “A mentor is someone who is close to me and can encourage me.”
- “A mentor is someone older and experienced who can give me advice. In my culture we ask the elders for guidance to see whether we are on the right track.”
- “I need encouragement and advice from others who are more mature.”
- “I would appreciate it if someone could give me intentional support to become a consultant.”
- “Someone who understands the challenges I face at work and encourages me.”
- “To have someone who knows what I am working on and who prays for me.”
- “I would like to have someone to sit down with and find a solution together to a problem.”
The findings suggest that mentoring is very much needed among African colleagues who work in language development. It seems that a robust and effective mentoring program could help people feel more at home and at ease in their organisations because they would have someone who could show them the ropes and answer their questions in a safe relationship. In many of these cultures that operate with high power distance, asking questions from one’s supervisor is not a straight-forward matter. Strong mentoring relationships will help orient people both in their jobs and in the culture and values of their organization. This is particularly important in multicultural organizations.
The responses also indicate that for a mentoring relationship to be effective in these contexts, it needs to have a genuine and deeply relational component that includes: giving advice, commitment to a long-term relationship and showing care in practical ways.
What expectations do mentees have in your context? Tell us by leaving a reply below.