By Elizabeth Elango Bintliff, CEO, JA Africa
If I can advise young people, in Africa or elsewhere in the world, to do one thing this International Youth Day as an investment in themselves it would be this: get a mentor! What’s a mentor, you ask? A mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor. What is mentorship? It is the guidance provided by a mentor, especially an experienced person in a company or educational institution. Why is it important? Mentorship is important partly because if well done it will help you gain some knowledge and skills outside of an academic or parental framework. It will also orient you to professional life – whether you choose to become an employee or an entrepreneur- and it will facilitate your success. There is something about having someone who otherwise has no stake in your success helping you and believing in you that makes you want to succeed.
Since moving into my current role I have mentored many young people by default. I learned to become active on social media. “It’s where the young people are,” my staff tells me. Over the last year I have become amazed by its power to connect people to opportunity. Young people reach out to me very often on social media and the most common request that I get is “would you please be my mentor?” While I admire the proactiveness of these people in making this request, and I make a commitment to respond to most of the requests I receive I quickly started to notice a trend: we would exchange emails, set a time to meet and then very often they would vanish. They’d simply not show up. Sometimes they’d show up once. Many times they would be unprepared. I would call and they would be in a noisy location with friends, seeming surprised by my call.
Given this experience, I want to offer some advice on how young people can make mentorship meaningful and impactful for the mentor and the mentee. Here are my tips:
Feel free to be direct. There is no room for shyness, unless that is what you want to work on. Then you can say “one of the main things I am working on is overcoming shyness. What tips or advice do you have for me to use as tools?”
Over the last few months employees of LinkedIn, based in Dublin, Ireland, have been mentoring JA students in a high school in Johannesburg, South Africa. This generation of youth have the benefit of technology to connect them to people in ways that was not possible just a decade ago. Distance and geography are no longer a barrier for you to connect with the people you admire and aspire to emulate. So reach out, find a mentor and start charting your path in life.
Now go forth and succeed!