Intentional Mentoring in SIL Cameroon – Coffee and Snacks Included!

by Heline Kimbung and Larry Seguin

Heline Kimbung, HR Director, SIL Cameroon
Larry Seguin, Community Engagement and Sociolinguistics Coordinator,
SIL Cameroon

Leadership development and mentoring in SIL Cameroon

In July 2021, SIL Cameroon launched a leadership development and mentoring program aimed at intentionally investing in its future leaders through tapping into the knowledge and experience of its more experienced staff. The program is being co-led by Heline Kimbung, the director of human resources, and Larry Seguin, the coordinator of the Community Engagement and Sociolinguistics Department.

What are our goals?

We have four areas in mind:

  • Intentionally benefit from the skills and experience of many of our people before they leave or retire.
  • Proactively find and develop people to take on leadership roles with confidence.
  • Foster a community of grace by supporting intentional relationships where people are building each other up and contributing to their growth as persons.
  • Provide training and accompaniment to those currently in mentoring relationships, to help make their experiences as mentors and mentees very rewarding.

What makes this program distinctive from previous mentoring initiatives in Cameroon?

First, mentees are responsible for their own learning. 

Second, the mentee chooses his or her mentor. We compile a list of people willing to be mentors, along with their strengths and interests, and share that with the mentees. We have not always been able to satisfy mentees’ preferences, but most of the time we have been able to do so.

Third, the mentee’s and mentor’s supervisors are both included in the process so that they see the mentoring relationship as an integral part of their subordinates’ work.

Fourth, there is a mentoring agreement in place. It spells out clear objectives, a clear timeline for achieving the objectives, an evaluation process, and a date at which the formal relationship comes to an end (with a celebration) or is extended. The mentor, the mentee, and their supervisors sign the agreement.

Mentoring Cafés

Another distinctive feature of our program is the “Mentoring Café.” Providing ongoing hands-on training and refreshers to the parties in the mentorship triangle (mentee, mentor, and supervisor) – and this, in a non-traditional learning format – has been a very rewarding time.

At the mentoring cafes, we spend about 4 hours together, broken down into 30-45 minutes of facilitated and well-planned interactive activity stations. Such activities and conversations have been developed around topics relevant to the mentoring pairs. Topics have included communication; giving and receiving feedback in cross-cultural mentoring relationships; how to motivate yourself and others; how a mentee can take responsibility for his or her learning; evaluating the effectiveness of the mentoring relationship; asking powerful questions; and the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of a mentor.

To create a relaxed “café” ambiance, snacks and drinks are available throughout the morning.

We finish the café with a debrief, asking what participants appreciated and what improvements they would suggest. We record these for future cafés.

To date, we have had four cafés, with between 12 and 15 participants at each. The individual group sizes have therefore been perfect for encouraging participation by all in the discussions.

Preparing for the next cohort

The seven mentees in the current cohort occupy positions varying from construction and maintenance, finance, and library to language project development, facilitation, and implementation.

We have been excited by the growth we have seen in our colleagues who have been taking part in this first cohort and look forward to starting a second cohort by the end of 2022.

Reflection question:

  • What could you do in your sphere of influence to strengthen mentoring relationships?
  • What could it look like to organise a Mentoring Café in your organisation or department?

Banner photo by Pexels from Pixabay

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