At end of 2014 I decided to join the East Africa Women's Mentoring Network that envisions to provide emerging women leaders in sub-Saharan Africa with access to experienced mentors who can provide active support for professional and personal development related to gender, family planning and reproductive health, and many other relevant health issues. The LMG project of the Management Sciences for Health managed by Sarah Lindsay (Senoir Technical Officer) and her team is very much appreciated. Focusing on women is important because Reproductive health issues affect more women and thus the need to have more women into leadership in the Reproductive Health programmes and policy positions since they are more likely to appreciate and address these issues.
I was matched with two (mentees) vibrant and brilliant young women professionals in Reproductive Health in Kenya (Elizabeth Imbo and Hawa Abdullahi). The LMG mentoring program provides a confidential platform for mentees to realize their leadership potential by facilitating relationships with mentors, who act as role models, share knowledge and opportunities, and provide guidance around a variety of health issues. Mentoring is learning through a relationship that is designed to be an interactive process between individuals of differing levels of experience and expertise.
"We need to mentor young women. If we don’t mentor, we lose out on leadership later". This statement by Saudatu Sani, Member of Parliament Nigeria is indeed a key reason I have made efforts to reach out to other women through the Empowering Women through Mentoring (EwoM) initiative and thus being part of the EAWM Network is awesome.
In the EAWMN we recognize and appreciated that, for women in particular, a mentor can serve as a catalyst to improve skills and prepare women to navigate the complexities of organizational life. The Network offers both mentees and mentors opportunities to develop contacts within their sector, access global health and development information, and gain valuable insights from experienced and successful network of professionals. The mentoring relationship is guided by the mentoring agreement signed by both the mentor and mentee. This has facilitated access to resources on family planning, reproductive health, leadership, and management skills, as well as a community of practice of emerging and accomplished women leaders.
This mentoring opportunity offers a unique online mentoring approach, harnessing the power of digital technology. All through, we have connected using: Whatsapp: 40%; Facebook messenger 30%; E-mail 20%; Google chat 10% making every attempt to virtually meet frequently and regularly at least weekly. During our online mentoring activities, we tackled: career guidance, personal development, access to relevant resources, confidence building.
During our experience sharing EAWMN Learning Collaborative Forum recently in Nairobi (2-4 September 20145), I was pleased to know that this mentoring relationship has impacted on my mentees personal and professional lives. I meet my mentees face to face for the first time but it was like we had met before. Hawa and Elizabeth reveal that it was exciting for them to have a personal touch during the mentoring sessions to some issues they were experiencing. Particularly self assessment/analysis gave a better understanding of their personalities and how it affects their image and relationships at the work place; resolving conflicts work place; Hawa shares that the mentoring sessions have given her more confidence that resulted into rewarding and innovation in RH /FP activities e.g. she started men groups, offered training, conducted on job training, ensured availability of commodities, sensitized communities, remarkably improved relationship with staff and local community staff who are very useful. Also their negotiation approaches/skills have improved: “…discussed and pushed for quality improvement training for staff to tackle issues of delayed reporting”.
However, as a mentor I would like to say that our mentorship relationship with Hawa and Elizabeth has worked better because of our ability to be flexible and committed. We also agreed at the very beginning that honesty and trust was critical and this enabled each one opening up. The passion each one had has enabled continuity of discussions and consistence. Specifically for me as a mentor, I was more motivated by the positive feedback I was getting from Hawa and Elizabeth. Over the period of mentoring, we have been able to build and nurture the relationship. As mentor I have learnt a lot and appreciate more the need for deliberate nurturing of women leaders in the RH/FP programmes
Amidst this rewarding programme challenges where encountered which included: poor internet connectivity which interrupts and frustrates mentoring sessions; different time zones; Changes in office/assignment changes flow of planned sessions; busy work schedules and costs implications.
Overall, embracing the online approach to mentoring works and should be encouraged to reach out to those women who may not easily access mentors.