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How Mentorship Can Change the Sector

April 15, 2022

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Ennie Chipembere Chikwema

Technical Director, Locally Led Development, South Africa


Jessica Walker

Senior Manager, Convenings, US

In preparation for Humentum’s blog series, Jessica Walker, who currently manages the mentorship program, met with Ennie Chipembere Chikwema, Director of Locally Led Development at Humentum to talk about how she sees mentorship. Ennie has 15 years of experience as a professional coach and has curated mentor relationships throughout her career. In this edited interview, she shares her perspectives on effective mentorship and how it can change the sector.

Jessica: What inspired you to start mentoring/coaching?

Ennie: It’s more a natural gifting. I just found people sort of gravitated to me for guidance, for advice, even right from high school. And it’s something that I enjoy doing because it comes naturally, it’s not difficult for me to do.

The more I progressed in my career, I realized that there were more people who needed mentoring from a professional perspective. And I then got some training in coaching specifically because I realized you have to sharpen the natural ability to be able to better support people who need it. That’s how it started, but I think for me it’s more I can do it. I enjoy it, so, I don’t have to look for opportunities for it. People come to me, so I end up just doing it and if I have the time, I’m happy to help.

Jessica: How has mentoring impacted your career?

Ennie: Everybody needs a mentor! Mentorship shortens the learning curve in anything, and you need that at every stage of your career. With it you grow in your career and your professional path. In every stage of development there are new things that you need to grasp; new skills and new competences to develop. It has been a strategy that I have used, quite effectively, to try to make sure that at each career stage I have that guidance, I have that support to learn something, and get critical feedback on things I might need to change to succeed.

And I find mentors are sort of like mirrors of ourselves. They see you, like a Johari window, we have blind spots so they see things that we don’t see ourselves. They are great for cheering you on, affirming you; sometimes you have self-doubt, particularly when you are transitioning from one level of your profession to the next and they are there for you. Sometimes you don’t feel ready, so you need people who know you. If you’ve got a long-term mentorship relationship that transitions with your career, it’s very impactful.

Also, I do a lot of intergenerational mentorships. My team of mentors is not only those who are older than me in the pathway I’m traveling. I also sort of “reverse mentorship,” where I have young people in my network that are part of my mentorship team. I look to them because they are a different generation with different views of the world, different skills, and natural gifts and abilities, and mindset. I make sure that I continue to be renewed and regenerated in a way that’s cognizant of the changes and trends in the world.

Jessica: Who has been your biggest mentor?

Ennie: There are a few but I’ll mention Everjoice Win. She’s currently the Executive Director for the Shine Campaign. I knew of her before meeting because we’re both from Zimbabwe, both from the same hometown, and we both at different times studied at the University of Zimbabwe Economic History Department.

I met her professionally when I joined my former organization, ActionAid International. I joined her in what was then the International Women’s Rights Team. She was the Head of the team and the organization had made a commitment to put women’s rights at the center of everything that they do. [In this] role [I had to] to strengthen organizational capacity to deliver on that commitment across 45 countries. And we did amazing work under her leadership. I can only credit it to her coaching and mentorship approach to how she leads because I had never worked internationally or globally at that point. This was 16 years ago, but she has continued to be my go-to at every life and professional stage, and she looks out for me.

Now I’m the Director of Locally Led Development with Humentum, and every week she sends me something that she has curated – an article, a webinar, people to talk to. She’s actively invested in me and my professional development. That’s the kind of mentor you want to have, one where the relationship is so developed, you don’t always have to prompt. They are actively looking out for you. She’s been good and continues to be good to me.

Jessica: That sounds amazing and I’m glad you have somebody like that in your life. From your experience, what characteristic is most important for a mentor?

Ennie: A good mentor must be compatible with the goals that you set for yourself. Compatibility is very important. It’s a relationship, so there must be chemistry and an interest in you and what you’re trying to achieve.

And mentorship is not one way. The relationship is also what you bring to the table, too. That’s the best kind of connection because there is a dual-vested interest. A mentor must be willing to do several things in support of your goals. One, be able to advise and play a role where they open doors for you, or shift your perspective, or open your awareness through whatever they share with you.

Second, they have to be able to critically challenge you in terms of giving critical feedback, both affirming [and] building. They must be able to see your potential. I think more than you see it, so that they can draw it out. If they can’t do that, you remain in the perspective you have about yourself and what you’re capable of doing.

I think a great mentor is someone who can listen and ask questions. They may not have answers but can task questions that help me think through something and I’m able to utilize my own responses or shift my perspective because I’ve been asked the right questions.

And absolutely important: they have to have time for you.

Jessica: How can mentees make the most of a mentoring experience?

Ennie: What’s important is clarity of purpose. What are your goals? Why are you seeking a mentor instead of professional development or learning and development methodologies? Be very clear about what your mentorship goals are and your ask. Don’t be generic, like “just help me develop my career.” What exactly about your career? Where do you want to go? Know you want Point A to Point B and what you see the role of the mentor to be. That’s the first thing: clarity of purpose.

Then the second thing: be clear about what the mentor can do for you. Are you looking for a mentor with expertise in global development? Are you looking for a mentor with expertise in strategic thinking? If that’s what you’re seeking and they have it, then it is an alignment.

You also make the foundation of a mentorship where there is a relationship and some chemistry. It’s not a forced kind of relationship. That rapport and connection is very important. And you make the best of your mentor by being available to support them, to be there for them, and to give them feedback in what whatever way and shape they need it. There must be something you bring to the table.

And, I would say good mentorship relationships are structured. I know it’s not like coaching that’s really strict and outcomes-based. But when I have gotten the most out of mentors or mentees have gotten the most out of me is when there is a structure. If you are going to meet once a month, once a quarter, then make sure that’s set from the beginning.

And be a mentee who gives updates. The burden of keeping your mentor updated so that you’re top of mind for them is on you. If you are going to have a session with them, send an agenda. What are you expecting? They may come with other ideas but be proactive in managing the relationship. Send an update, send an agenda, set a time to show up. During that time, focus, learn, and always leave with some sort of action or idea of what you’re going to do before the next meeting. And of course, thank them and always schedule the next meeting so there’s momentum.

Jessica: How can mentorship change the global development sector?

Ennie: Oh, that’s a big one, but it’s also easy. It means everyone would need to have an openness to share – to share of themselves, their time, their knowledge, and their energy. Everyone would need to have an openness to create opportunities. All the values, such as equity, inclusion, diversity, equality, those kinds of aspirations that we have in the development sector, would be easier to achieve.

You can’t be a mentor if you’re not generous because mentors are giving of themselves and their time. I know there are paid mentorships but predominantly mentorship is people gifting their time, their knowledge, and their social capital through introductions within their network. Mentors are taking the time to be interested in the mentee, what the mentee wants to achieve, and taking time out of their schedule to say, “Okay, if I’m going to meet with Ennie in a month or next week, or tomorrow, what do I? How do I need to prepare?”

So, for me it would change the face of global development in quite a significant way: it would deal with talent issues, with power issues, race, gender, discrimination, all sorts of intersectional issues, because of the kind of tenets or principles and politics that are behind good mentorship relationships.


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