Mentorships as an Equal Exchange
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Author: Dirk Slater
Original Post:
Date: 2 October 2013
Traits of a good tech mentor

I’ve just completed a 6 month project working with the Transparency and Accountability Initiative’s mentorship programme. I spent two days last week with felow mentors Tunji Eleso, Sarah Schacht, Gaba Rodriguez and Lucy Chambers, along with Allen Gunn (Gunner) in London to discuss what we’d learned from our projects.

Mentorships inherently imply a hierarchical relationship, with one person guiding and sharing knowledge with another. Throughout my career guiding grassroots organisations in technology use, I’ve always found hierarchical relationships problematic, as it works against building confidence and comfortability. Fortunately, my colleagues felt the same way, and each of us strove to break down the mentor relationship towards a more equal dynamic. Where the mentorships excelled was when the mentor and mentee learned from each other. The mentors may have been providing advice on building key skills but the mentees were providing knowledge about context and unique applications of those skills.

The same for goes for building trust The mentee does need to trust that the mentor is not going to waste their time and bring value for the time spent. But the mentor needs to build trust that the mentee is not going to waste their time and follow-through on agreed upon plans.

Some good tech mentors best practices:

Create a safe space by articulating an understanding of what has just been achieved and what will happen next
Have clarity on goals, and also clarity on when goals change
Readily share what you know and admit what you don’t
Be a node, and connect to others who have helpful expertise
Have patience, and recognise the pace of the mentee
Both mentee and mentor must be invested in goals and outcomes
I was fortunate in having Eva Vozarova from Fair Play Alliance and Banza Chela from TALC as mentees. For both mentorships we were able to quickly define goals and then chart progress as we moved along. WIth Fair Play Alliance we focused on increasing project management skills and what was great for me was learning how a transparency and accountability organisation implemented data projects. With TALC, we focused on increasing Banza’s confidence in taking on Tech projects and I was able to learn more about the challenges of using tech to do crowd sourced data collection in remote regions using mobile phones.

What was also fortunate was that we had David Hollow from Jigsaw Consulting, who is conducting a research project on the impact of the mentorship program. So there will be more substantive information available soon.

For more on some of the challenges we faced as mentors see: Can You Hear Me Now? Mentoring from a Distance