The advent of the European Year of Youth and Africa-Europe Week opening with Youth Day, inspired Oumou Diallo, our Research and Communications Intern, to reflect on different forms of structural support for youth diaspora. Read on for a think-piece which touches on the importance of mentoring for personal and professional development and the added value of mentoring young diasporans.
Africa-Europe Week kicking off with Youth Day and the declaration of 2022 as the European Year of Youth are the most visible recent examples of mainstreaming the participation of young people in social and economic processes. In this article, I would like to take a step back and reflect on how to nurture the skills of young actors of change, specifically those identifying as diaspora who find themselves at the crossroads of two different realities between their country of heritage and residence. I believe that mentoring diaspora youth offers great potential to grow skills and open up pathways to use them. My interest in mentoring grew during the internship here at EUDiF as it was a recurring topic, from the Africa-focused webinar fully dedicated to diaspora mentoring, to the collection of diaspora mentoring initiatives and Capacity Development actions, such as the AGBU Europe action which has mentoring at its core.
Before diving into the impact of mentoring young diasporans, we need to explore what mentoring really means. Mentorship is often grouped with coaching and training. Compared to the latter two, mentoring is less focused on performance or attaining qualifications, and more on personal and professional development rooted in a trust-based relationship between mentor and the mentee. Although perhaps most often seen as a structural part of entrepreneurship, in my time with EUDiF I have seen mentoring at play across diverse sectors, from education to advocacy. Mentoring is not only versatile in terms of sectors, but also in format, formality and scale (e.g. peer to peer, formal, informal, supervisory, ad-hoc, structured…). As a young person at the early part of my career, and having benefited from mentoring myself, I see great potential for mentoring for young diasporans.
Towards more accessible mentoring
I did not understand the importance of having a mentor until I started university. Through a programme organised by my university, I was matched with a mentor working in the field of political communication. Receiving mentoring during my final year – one filled with uncertainty and worsened by an ongoing global pandemic – was significant in setting my goals and opening my horizons in terms of educational and professional opportunities. My mentor helped me connect with professionals working in migration, development and journalism; I started experimenting with virtual networking. As well as helping build a network, mentoring can support setting clear objectives and finding ways to achieve one’s personal goals. Mentors can help build self-confidence, tackle self-doubt and soothe the fears that come with stepping out of your comfort zone to see or grab opportunities. So many mentors and mentees, myself included, talk about these benefits that it seems obvious that mentoring programmes ought to be truly accessible to everyone.
‘Critical mentoring’ is an emerging approach that shifts the perspective on mentoring from an educational and policy tool to one that can address resource inequalities and promote inclusion. In 2017, with the publication ‘Critical Mentoring: A Practical Guide’, Dr. Torie Weiston Serdan proposed a new youth-centric approach, which engages with barriers standing between young people and their achievements, often related to the societal and political context excluding under-represented groups and their intersectional identities. The objective is not solely to enhance skills, rather it is about creating better circumstances for the youth, opening more pathways for their development, and tailoring programmes to their specific needs. The end goal of critical mentoring is about making “youth voice, agency, and leadership” heard and seen while recognising individuality (2017: 24). The European Year of Youth seeks to empower young people as change-makers for peaceful and democratic societies, recognising the particular difficulties and inequalities the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened for younger generations. Critical mentoring holds potential to redress these inequalities.
Mentoring from a diaspora perspective
As the ongoing pandemic intensifies inequalities, which can further marginalise vulnerable groups, I believe it is more important than ever to establish programmes that specifically support those most affected. There is evidence of mentoring having success in doing just this via initiatives catering to different communities of migrants such as refugees, economic migrants, and diaspora. Creating mentoring opportunities for and between individuals with shared (but still varied!) experience, can be a way to build on and celebrate diversity and opportunities whilst addressing inequalities stemming from individual or family migration. As a young, second-generation migrant and a member of the Guinean diaspora myself, I recognise that whilst strict definitions risk exclusion, active inclusion of marginalised people through such targeted initiatives holds great power to create feelings of empowerment, inclusion, trust and community which are key to social change.
One initiative I came across which I found particularly inspiring is SheLeads Kakuma. The mentoring programme, built around values of friendship, kindness and empathy, is led by young people seeking to counter the obstacles facing girls and women refugees in the Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya. Girls and women refugees connect with their mentors in North America or Europe over common interests and learn skills in leadership, storytelling and digital skills among others.
On the diaspora side, research from ECDPM commissioned jointly by EUDiF with the Migration Partnership Facility on Diaspora and Talent Partnerships found that, together with other areas, diaspora mentoring can contribute to skills development. In this case, diaspora-led mentoring for young adults in partner countries can equip them with the necessary skills to find employment both domestically and abroad, whilst simultaneously reinforcing the relationships between the diaspora and homeland. Mentors can be important intercultural mediators too, preparing migrants participating in Talent Partnerships for professional and socio-cultural aspects in Europe. In this regard, I believe that the added value of diaspora mentors is deeply connected to their drive to pursue meaningful actions back home.
The Youth Diaspora Internship at EUDiF has greatly opened my eyes to the many channels through which diasporas share their knowledge and use their skills back home, something I always aspired to do for Guinea. The internship has also provided me with a space to receive structured mentoring and acquire knowledge and skills that make me confident about the prospect of supporting the development of my country. Now, having experienced first-hand the benefits of career-oriented mentoring, I wish to combine this with the diaspora dimension and become a mentor to other young people in the diaspora with the same aspiration. I find it extremely powerful to see diaspora communities supporting one-another in accomplishing a shared goal and pushing for more representation while also giving back.
In general, mentorship can be one of many ways to support young adults from diverse backgrounds with tangible skills and emotional support, so that the hopes of every young person can be fulfilled, despite social and economic barriers. Mentoring initiatives targeted at young diasporans like myself are particularly meaningful in building the skills and confidence we need to contribute to the development of our countries of heritage whilst participating fully in life where we live.
With the European Year of Youth just at the beginning, I hold hope that it will bring mentoring forward as a more systematic tool in empowering young people in the diaspora to overcome inequalities and empower a generation of multicultural social changemakers.