What kind of a mentor do you need?

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:

Needs expressed by the Anglophone groups
Needs expressed by the Francophone 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.

Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

At sea

by Michael Jemphrey

Michael Jemphrey, Translation & Anthropology Consultant, SIL Francophone Africa

With two friends at university I bought a small wooden yacht thinking it would be so fun to sail round the coastline of Ireland. We bought a book about sailing and studied it a bit, looked at the pictures and got on top of the theory. We were ready to sail! On our maiden voyage we launched the boat into the Irish Sea and took off with great excitement. Minutes later we were panicking, there was water gushing up through the centerboard, the wind was blowing us off course, we were tugging at this rope and that rope to try and get the sails under control. Somehow, I can’t quite remember how, we ended back on land, after a frantic first sail of less than 15 minutes!

In our youthful enthusiasm we hadn’t realized that we needed a mentor, someone with a bit more experience, who had sailed before, to show us the ropes. Sailing is complicated – with lots of factors to take into account: wind tide, sails, other boats. Knowing the theory and putting it into practice are not the same.

Our work in SIL is also complex and increasingly so: plenty of theories and new methods on linguistics, translation, literacy, Scripture engagement, multiple multicultural partners and complex regulations to navigate. There is lots of information out there, but without a mentor we can feel all at sea. It is not just academic disciplines where mentors are needed. In a recent presentation on the launch of the Robust Mentoring initiative in Africa, directors were all saying we need mentors for our colleagues working in finance, human resources, project funding, administration.

A mentor can be so encouraging! Our leadership has determined that mentoring is so vital for our professional growth and for the robust health of our organization as we seek to serve others that it should be part of our DNA.

But there are so many questions:

  • How to find a good mentor?
  • How to be a good mentor?
  • How to find the time?
  • How to start a mentoring relationship?
  • How to finish?
  • How to navigate mentoring cross-culturally?
  • How to organize and track a mentoring program so that people don’t fall through the cracks?

This website is one way we will address these questions and challenges together, learning from one another. We will seek to use the website to 1) gather useful resources on mentoring in one place, 2) publish a short blog post several times a year to encourage interaction, 3) facilitate discussion of questions and cross-pollination of ideas.

What metaphor comes to your mind when you think of mentoring? Leave a comment below.

Welcome! / Bienvenue!

We hope that you find our website helpful. It is designed to be a place where you can find resources and share about your experiences in order to learn more about formal mentoring for sustainable development in cross-cultural settings. We trust that this blog will inspire you to invest in formal mentoring in your organisation by intentionally helping your colleagues in their professional and personal development.

Nous espérons que vous trouverez notre site web utile. Il est conçu pour être un lieu où vous cherchez des ressources et partagez vos expériences afin d’en savoir plus sur le mentorat formel pour le développement durable dans des contextes interculturels. Nous espérons que ce blog vous incitera à investir dans le mentorat formel au sein de votre organisation en aidant intentionnellement vos collègues dans leur développement professionnel et personnel.