Mentorship - Where we have reached so far…

By Jessica Colaço
  Published 03 Jul 2011
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Guest post by Phares Kariuki who spends his days working in Product Development for VMware, moderator of Skunkworks and organizing tech events. SkunkworksKE started the mentorship program with the Nairobi iHub in March, with a call for applications. We received roughly 100 applications for mentoring, and had to filter these list down to the 34 people who we selected. The criteria was not as complex as many thought, we had a simple selection committee which ranked each potential ‘mentee’. We then did a median and the top 30 were contacted (we had a tie with the remaining four). Mentor Selection We had the task also, of selecting the mentors. This was challenging as we had to go to the accomplished people in the tech sector and ask them to volunteer their time for this purpose. The response however was overwhelming, with most responding positively and being open to giving their time for this purpose. We have to say thanks to the 38 people who agreed to be mentors. We will name them all (if they agree) in a separate post. We had to go for more mentors as not all of them had the time required to do individual mentoring. Curriculum This proved to be the most daunting task, as once you have the mentors, and the participants, what next? The mentorship program has to lead to something. Each talk has to have information that can be built upon with time and you also need to have programs within the mentorship program that allow for capacity building from peers. We decided to integrate the following topics into the mentorship program:
  • History (as Edmund Burke said, ‘those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it’)
  • Game theory (your life is essentially the sum total of your decisions).
  • Entrepreneurship (fundamentals of business, finding out challenges around entrepreneurship etc)
  • Technology (how to figure out the global tech roadmap)
A lot of this was to be covered in the group work, but unfortunately, we have been unable to have one of these sessions (it’s a time problem actually, which we are working to resolve). How the sessions work? We typically have the sessions begin with an educative video that is part of the curriculum. We follow this up with the first mentor of the day, a coffee break and the final mentor and group work. We additionally will be giving a kit to the participants (that has been long overdue unfortunately) with all the content to be used over the entire program. Who has spoken? We have been privileged to have the following mentors speak at the sessions over the last few weeks:
  1. Liko Agosta (Founder, Verviant LTD & PesaPal LTD) - He gave an impromptu (it really was, he happened to be at the iHub during the launch, we had not anticipated to have any mentors speak) talk on entrepreneurship, his experience with Verviant, his experience building Pesapal and the state of the market in Kenya.
  2. Conrad Akunga (Production Manager, Virtual City) - He gave an excellent talk on what to study and how to stay relevant in the tech market. He gave advice on how to not to make mistakes when job seeking and also how to avoid the common bloopers in the tech market space.
  3. Aaron Mbowa (CTO, DataposIT Limited) - He gave his experience in life as a student, teacher and entrepreneur. His was a fascinating story of how a break from his PhD found him teaching in Kenya for 10 years and how that eventually morphed into his current business.
  4. Riyaz Bachani (CTO, Wananchi Group) - He gave his experience in and out of university along with the history of the evolution of the telco. His storylassoedin several anecdotes on the little things that were not anticipated in the foetal stages of the ISP industry in Kenya.
  5. David Owino (Founder, IPO48; Partner, Plexus Group) - His talk was on how to commercialize tech ideas. With a very deep knowledge of business, he was able to get into detail about strategy, product choice, sales mobilization and how to know and leverage your business ecosystem (i.e. suppliers, customers, government etc).
What have we learnt so far? Firstly, we need to increase the amount of time allocated for the mentorship sessions. We haverealizedthat the two and a half hours allocated every weekend are far from enough. We need to increase this to five odd hours in order to cover all the curriculum we need to cover. Things do go wrong. How you deal with the deviation is what’s important. This mentorship program needs to be firmed out (in terms of curriculum) and spun off to other locations. The amount of interest has been slowly increasing as the weeks go by. What are the next steps? Increase the number of sessions. This needs to be done in order for us to be able to wrap up the sessions and move to personal mentoring. Once we have paired mentors to mentee’s we will be able to bring the program to a close and simply monitor the progress of the same. Increase the number of ladies both mentoring and being mentored. There is a need to have more women in the tech space in Kenya. Record the plenaries and have them online. This will be of particular use to those who were not selected for the program. We noticed that some of the talks, due to the smaller nature of this program went into greater depth and would be useful to the tech community in Kenya at large. You learn through Fun!!The participants and the mentors tend to be a very interesting group of people and the sessions are never without a dull moment. Increasing the humorous moments will act as a learning aid and additionally as much needed comic relief in what tend to be traditionally dreary life lessons :-). That’s all from our end for now, many thanks to the iHub team, the guys who volunteered from Skunkworks, the mentors and mostly for the mentees for their patience and participation.
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