On 4 May 2021, we hosted our fourth Regional Thematic Meeting in cooperation with Citizen’s and Diaspora Directorate of the African Union (CIDO) and the Africa-Europe Diaspora Development Platform (ADEPT). The Africa edition of the online event series featured parallel panel discussions to take a 360 view of the potential of mentoring when talking about diaspora engagement and development. Read on for the top takeaways from this stimulating event…
As part of the EUDiF series of regional thematic meetings aimed at fostering exchanges of practices, experience, and networking to pave the way for new opportunities for collaboration, during the Africa edition we took stock of diaspora-related mentoring schemes and practices from different perspectives, including those of diaspora organisations, international development and private sector actors. Despite the varied standpoints, a number of patterns and common recommendations emerged in relation to mentoring:
An emphasis on entrepreneurial mentorship
Despite its widespread use across various industries, mentoring in the field of diaspora engagement largely focuses on developing entrepreneurship to create jobs and drive economic growth. In mentorship programmes, diaspora can be either at the giving end, actively transferring knowledge and expertise to entrepreneurs from both the country of heritage and diaspora communities, or at the receiving end, as beneficiaries of entrepreneurial initiatives such as in the context of MEET Africa.
Mentoring as a critical component of entrepreneurial support services
As the high rate of business survival under MEET Africa I confirms (approximately 87%), mentorship plays a key role in determining the successful take-off and growth of businesses born out of incubation programmes. Seasoned mentors can help founders navigate the everyday challenges of entrepreneurship with expert advice and – most importantly – introducing them to their networks and the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Indeed, for mentorship to be most effective, it is important to complement it with other support measures, including training, finance, and capacity development of key stakeholders in the ecosystem (i.e. strengthening relevant public and private economic actors, but also policies, regulations, legal and institutional environments).
A powerful tool for mobilising changemakers and empowering underrepresented groups
For organisations such as Ashoka that strive to catalyse social entrepreneurship, mentoring offers the means for its community of innovators to join forces with influential diaspora leaders to find solutions for social challenges. The mentorship takes the form of a strategic partnership driven by a shared sense of purpose and vision for social change. Similarly, the African Diaspora Network seeks to unleash the next generation of social innovators and agents of change by mentoring and providing networking opportunities to diaspora members interested in investing in the homelands. One such example is the recently launched Accelerating Black Leadership and Entrepreneurship (ABLE) programme, which empowers founders of non-profit or small social enterprises in the United States through coaching and mentoring.
Effective mentoring is a result-oriented two-way relationship
Mentoring specialists with an accredited methodology, like Mowgli Mentoring, find in mentorship a sustainable means for nurturing human capital for the broader good of communities. To enable both long and short-term success and sustainability, Mowgli’s mentoring programmes are designed through a structured process with measurable outcomes and qualitative metrics including:
- Quality mentoring through careful recruitment and training of mentors to ensure their genuine commitment throughout the whole engagement;
- Transformative rather than transactional relationships, focused on personal growth and a trust-based relationship;
- Long-term relationships based on mutual learning engagement and with the potential to change from contract-based engagement to a more friendship-like relationship or a deep, supportive network;
- A 360-degree approach to ensure that mentees are supported in building their motivation and confidence along with their professional skills and knowledge. At the same time, mentors develop their own interpersonal, business, communication and leadership skills.
Dynamism and bridging markets are at the core of diaspora-led mentorship schemes
Mentorship programmes run by diaspora networks can swiftly adapt to emerging needs and realities by employing digital solutions and tapping into their connections with partners in both their host country and homeland. Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, the African Diaspora Youth Forum in Europe (ADYFE) has, for instance, continued to facilitate diaspora access to markets and knowledge transfer through virtual, multi-participant interactions framed around the following practices:
- Soft-landing: a framework that allows an old-timer diaspora returnee to share knowledge, networking, technology transfer and even create joint ventures with diaspora individuals aspiring to move to their homelands.
- Crowd-coaching using online platforms for large-scale exchange of resources, networking and discussions between individuals looking to return to their country of heritage and veteran diaspora returnees.
- Office time: a system that allows an experienced entrepreneur to mentor a founder on a specific business challenge or scenario.
Lessons learned from diaspora mentorship initiatives
Years of experience from projects implemented by the African Foundation for Development (AFFORD) highlighted the importance of:
- Understanding expectations: Diasporas are mostly driven by a win-win return on their engagement and not just altruism. For those in search of business opportunities in their home country, mentoring offers the chance to better grasp local challenges and create the right connections. Understanding the genuine drivers behind diaspora-led mentoring helps factor the proper level of incentives in programming;
- Vetted recruitment of mentees or mentors to ensure that candidates are open to a reciprocal learning experience, rather than a one-way, top-down relationship;
- Appropriate matching of diaspora and local entrepreneurs based on needs and the potential for meaningful exchange of knowledge and expertise;
- Recognising diaspora as resource persons and creating a conducive environment that enables the retention of alumni mentors for future engagement.
The experiences presented by speakers in the two panels were varied, but the messages were consistent and summed up by the presentation of Réseau des Entrepreneurs de la Diaspora Africaine (REDA) recent “La maison de l’entreprenariat” project in Côte d’Ivoire summed up the two success factors in mentoring relations succinctly: First, it is essential to develop a genuine relationship between the entrepreneur and [diaspora] mentor to promote diaspora contributions and linkage to the country of origin. Second, the foundation of impactful mentoring is promoting a win-win knowledge transfer centred on trust, humility and inspiration.