Mentoring for development professionals is a two way magic.
I have been struggling with an eating disorder for the past few years. I am afraid to eat and afraid I will gain weight. The fear is unjustified as I was never overweight. I have weighed the same since I was 12 years old, and I am currently nearing my 25th birthday. Yet, when I see my reflection, I see somebody who is much larger than reality.
I told my therapist that I thought I was fat. She said it was 'body dysmorphia'.
She explained this as a mental health condition where a person is apprehensive about their appearance and suggested I visit a nutritionist. She also told me that this condition was associated with other anxiety disorders and eating disorders. I did not understand what she was saying as I was in denial; I had a problem, to begin with. I wanted a solution without having to address my issues.
Upon visiting my nutritionist, he conducted an in-body scan and told me my body weight was dangerously low.
I disagreed with him.
I felt he was speaking about a different person than the person I saw in the mirror. I felt like the elephant in the room- both literally and figuratively. He then made the simple but revolutionary suggestion to keep a food diary to track what I was eating.
This was a clever way for my nutritionist and me to be on the same page. By recording all my meals, drinks, and snacks, I was able to see what I was eating versus what I was supposed to be eating. Keeping a meal diary was a powerful and non-invasive way for my nutritionist to walk in my shoes for a specific time and understand my eating (and thinking) habits.
No other methodology would have allowed my nutritionist to capture so much contextual and behavioural information on my eating patterns other than a daily detailed food diary.
However, by using a paper and pen, I often forgot (or intentionally did not enter my food entries) as I felt guilty reading what I had eaten or that I had eaten at all.
I also did not have the visual flexibility to express myself through using photos, videos, voice recordings, and screen recordings. The usage of multiple media sources would have allowed my nutritionist to observe my behaviour in real-time and gain a holistic view of my physical and emotional needs.
I confessed to my therapist my deliberate dishonesty in completing the physical food diary and why I had been reluctant to participate in the exercise. My therapist then suggested to my nutritionist and me to transition to a mobile diary study.
Whilst I used a physical diary (paper and pen), a mobile diary study app would have helped my nutritionist and me reach a common ground (and to be on the same page) sooner rather than later.
As a millennial, I wanted to feel like journaling was as easy as Tweeting or posting a picture on Instagram. But at the same time, I wanted to know that the information I provided in a digital diary would be as safe and private as it would have been as my handwritten diary locked in my bedroom cabinet.
Further, a digital food diary study platform with push notifications would have served as a constant reminder to log in my food entries as I constantly check my phone. It would have also made the task of writing a food diary less momentous by transforming my journaling into micro-journaling by allowing me to enter one bite at a time rather than the whole day's worth of meals at once.
Mainly, the digital food diary could help collect the evidence that I was not the elephant in the room, but rather that the elephant in the room was my denied eating disorder.
The elephant in the room
When I first completed my Masters of Public Health, I was lost. I needed help to navigate the career world. I needed a more experienced person to tell me what options I had to choose the best pathway for myself based on my values, skills, ambition, and professional goals.
If there is one thing I knew, was that I wanted to work in the Development sector.
Development work combines research and practical aid to improve the lives of people living in the developing world.
The result is gratifying by allowing professionals to look into issues or problems and derive and implement solutions for those problems. The development work spectrum is vast. Work can range from distributing emergency food, doing field research or training young entrepreneurs to build their capacities and launch their businesses.
After a comprehensive search on 'Mentors for Development Professionals', I found Fernando Zacarías, a mentor who not only revolutionised my career trajectory but moreover who changed my life through his belief in my leadership and my potential.
This article encourages every professional, every expert, every young or established leader to become a mentor. Through this gratifying experience, you can see the world from a different perspective, develop your leadership and management qualities and possibly change someone's life.
This article is also to encourage every young professional to find a mentor. You can use the references from the article, find other resources, or personally reach out to somebody you look up to for guidance.
The bottom line is mentoring is two-way magic.
Mentoring is a relationship between two people with the goal of professional and personal development. The "mentor" is usually an experienced individual who shares knowledge, experience, and advice with a less experienced person or "mentee."
This two-way close interaction includes career coaching, counselling, advising, teaching, and inspiring. What makes mentoring unique is that it goes beyond the traditional modalities of professional and personal instruction. Mentoring allows for both parties (the mentor and the mentee) to share their life experiences, their thoughts, their stories, and their feelings in a space that is safe and non-judgmental when illustrating a discussion topic.
This exchange of ideas between the two parties is a type of mutualism. It allows the mentee to gain from the wisdom and experience of the mentor, and it will enable the mentor to learn from the creativity and updated theoretical knowledge of the mentee.
The Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs also known as the Global Goals, were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as a global call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity. The 17 goals are integrated and fall under the categories of social, economic, or environmental development.
The creativity, know-how, technology, and financial resources from all society are needed to achieve the SDGs. More emphasis is required towards youth empowerment through mentoring to achieve the Global Goals with more youth living today.
A mentor can be an enabler, facilitator or catalyst for social change for mentees working towards the SDGs.
Mentors can help their mentees address and tackle personal and societal poverty, quality education, hunger, good health and well-being, gender equality, reduced inequality, sustainable cities and communities, peace and justice, and achieving climate justice.
As the 17 Goals aim to leave nobody behind, mentoring will bring everybody on board through the 6 pillars of mentoring. These pillars are:
1. Setting a Goal
2. Providing personal and professional support
MultiPod Mentoring is a free mentoring platform that enhances the capacity and skills of future leaders and practitioners of Global Health through personalized and regular mentoring.
Unique Selling Point: This mentoring platform is mainly for young global health professionals. The mentoring is free, done virtually, and prepares mentees to contribute successfully to improving worldwide health and development in support of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Additionally, MultiPod Mentoring has a daughter organization titled 'The Coalition for Global Health Innovation (CGHI)'. CGHI is a platform for global health early career professionals to connect, collaborate and initiate projects for global health challenges. The founders of the CGHI are mentees/prodigies of the MultiPod Mentoring programme who have graduated from the mentoring and have created a growing ground where innovative ideas are transformed into actionable solutions.
Drawback: A mentoring platform exclusive for Global Health and Human Development students and young professionals.
Mementor is a mentoring platform for current high school students, current undergraduates or early career professionals, or prospective PhD and Master degree applicants.
Unique Selling Point: The platform uses storytelling as the key for mentees to reflect on their experiences, recognize their value, and learn to communicate effectively. Mentoring is done through three methodologies: story exploration, written story, and spoken story.
Drawback: While everyone has a story to tell, this may not be the best methodology for a mentee looking for a more traditional mentoring with rigid structuring. The website offers a free 15-minute consultation, but then services are provided at a low cost.
Cost: A free 15-minute consultation can be scheduled, and after that, prices start from $5-$25 per session.
The website does have support services for lower income students for free or discounted services.
Mentoring Her is an online social mentoring network that connects women mentors and mentees to help one another grow in education, career, entrepreneurship, and empowerment.
Unique Selling Point: An exclusive platform for women (or those who identify as women) mentors and mentees.
Drawback: Both mentors and mentees must identify as women, be willing to have background checks, and come through referrals or be approved through an existing partner organization.
Partners for Youth with Disabilities (PYD) is an organization that empowers youth with disabilities to reach their full potential through transformative mentorship. Mentoring is done through transversal programs on personal, educational, and career goals. Additionally, PYD guides organizations in becoming more inclusive.
Unique Selling Point: Mentors youth with disabilities. Provides training, services, and disability inclusion resources to organizations across the USA for disability inclusivity. This advantage is key to sustainable development goal number 10 (reduced inequalities).
Drawback: One-to-one community-based mentoring limited to youth in the Greater Boston Area. Online mentoring is open to all young adults with disabilities (ages 18-26) across the United States only.
Cost: Free of charge
MentorNet is a non-profit virtual mentoring organization leveraging technology to match Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) students in US higher education.
Unique Selling Point: Besides its particular focus on STEM fields, MentorNet is also a sustainable mentoring platform. This programme incorporates a mentoring cycle that allows mentees(protégé) to rejoin as mentors upon completing the training.
Drawback: Mentoring is limited to STEM students working towards STEM degrees at accredited universities and colleges in the US.
Cost: Free of charge
Plug-in is a community of driven women supporting each other with tools and resources to build a successful work-life in Ghana.
Unique Selling Point: Young women get access to successful women they may not otherwise have access to outside the programme, such as prominent CEOs, entrepreneurs, and high-ranking professionals serving as mentors.
Additionally, this organization was built by young African women to empower young, ambitious women and offers support through three modalities:
Drawback: Currently, mentoring services are only open to female Ghanaian nationals only.
This is not an organisation. I mean, reaching out directly to a potential mentor through LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook. This can be an expert or professional in your field of work or area of interest.
Unique Selling Point: Connecting with somebody personally to seek guidance is one of the best ways to find a mentor that can encourage personal and professional development.
Drawback: Finding your mentor and creating your mentoring programme can be a lot of work. As a mentee, you would have to set the timelines, create your own goals, schedule appointments, follow up regularly. Additionally, you would have to convince your desired mentor that you are worth their time investment and to find and highlight something in it for them through the exchange.
Cost: It depends on what is agreed between you and your mentor. I would suggest bringing this up cost sooner rather than later to prevent surprises or awkward situations.
If you are doubtful that the world can achieve the ambitious 17 Sustainable Development Goals by the year 2030, one way you can push the agenda forward (from the comfort of your couch) is through being a mentor.
Mentoring is a fulfilling and enlightening experience for both mentors and mentees. For mentees, the benefits are likely to be gaining knowledge and skills and obtaining tips about challenges faced or challenges that might be faced in pursuing an education or a career.
Additionally, mentoring enhances personal and professional networks, making job hunting easier when the time comes.
Mentoring is a chance that mentors can give back, refresh theoretical knowledge and obtain creative and youthful ideas from mentees.
Furthermore, your mentee might take your guidance and change the world to become more sustainable, and it will be owed to your time and expertise.
While this article compares 7 mentoring platforms, there are plenty more.
What did I miss? Feel free to add your recommendations for mentoring platforms.
West African Lead, ALMA Youth Advisory Council/Zero Malaria Champion
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Dear Digital Diary,
I realized that there is an unquestionable comfort in being misunderstood. For to be understood, one must peel off all the emotional layers and be exposed.
This requires both vulnerability and strength. I guess by using a physical diary (a paper and a pen), I never felt like what I was saying was analyzed or judged. But I also never thought I was understood.
Paper does not talk back.Using a daily digital diary has required emotional strength. It has required the need to trust and the need to provide information to be helped and understood.
Using a daily diary has needed less time and effort than a physical diary as I am prompted to interact through mobile notifications. I also no longer relay information from memory, but rather the medical or personal insights I enter are real-time behaviours and experiences.
The interaction is more organic. I also must confess this technology has allowed me to see patterns in my behaviour that I would have otherwise never noticed. I trust that the data I enter is safe as it is password protected. I also trust that I am safe because my doctor and nutritionist can view my records in real-time.
Also, with the data entered being more objective and diverse through pictures and voice recordings, my treatment plan has been better suited to my needs.
No more elephants in this room