The Misconception of Mentorship.
Not too long ago, I and a couple of likeminded people co-founded the organization Future of Ghana Germany (FoGG). With that we launched the initiative “Vorbilder” (Role models) in which young adults are given the opportunity to become mentors to children who live in Germany and have an African background. The goal of the program is to develop and maintain a sustainable bond of influence between the mentor and mentee. They jointly develop solutions, in the event of challenges in the lives of the mentees. This includes areas such as school, career and general personal dealings.
With that we (FoGG) want to actively take on responsibility for the generations to come. I should rather say, I want to contribute to the empowerment of children and young adults that have a similar background as mine.
The starting point of this initiative was the observation that children in Germany with an African background are often behind at school and cannot level up to the performance of their classmates. Not because they lack intelligence nor talent. As research has shown this “disadvantage” originates mainly from difficult social circumstances. Hence, they are often unrightfully stigmatized as “slow learners”. As a result to this external - discouraging - label, these children respond with passivity, retreat and, at worst, with a strikingly "rebellious" attitude.
Another common challenge is the lack of support and to some extend a narrow view on the educational or career pathways for those children in their community and parental home. The reasons for this are rooted in the language barriers and a knowledge deficit of the parents about the German school and education system.
I like to call it the immigrant parents “career formula” which has not evolved since the day those parents have immigrated to Germany themselves. It is a generational gap that needs bridging.
As a child born to Ghanaian immigrants, I had my fair share of those experiences myself and know all too well how much this could have shifted the trajectory of my life, had I not pulled myself together. Working as a consultant in a top level professional service firm like Ernst & Young as a Ghanaian German in Germany, I am considered quite a unicorn in and outside of my community. My desire is to help make this the norm rather the exception. I did not have a person to confide in who was close to my age. Let alone looked like me and was able to help me navigate through the multiple roles I had to fill as a second generation “immigrant” in Germany. I was just very determined, but I am sure I would have probably been much faster and decisive had I had someone supportive in my corner.
Now whenever I talk about this, people seem to be baffled about the Idea that a twenty something year old man, who has no children of his own decided to initiate an organization of more twenty-something year adults to mentor children.
And this is what I want to talk to you about. You do not need to have your own children to qualify as a mentor. Matter of fact you do not need to have a specific age, income or social status. All you need are two things valuable information that helped you accomplish something that was hard to reach and the desire to transfer this knowledge to enable others to benefit from it. That’s it! Being a mentor is a very individual “act of service” that you can tailor in a way most beneficial for you and your mentee, no limits and no boundaries. You can mentor one child in the area of education or mentor 20 kids in the area of healthy eating. Whatever is your area of expertise, use it to empower and enable others! Simple, yet striking right?
With FoGG we do group mentoring. At the group mentoring, mentees and mentors get to know each other and playfully work together on challenging and relevant topics. We focus on topics such as empowerment, participation, equal opportunities, inclusion, democracy, diversity and identity. The aim is to enable the children to exploit their full potential. It is important to us to break down the topics in a target-oriented way to the real life situations of the children. The topics are carefully prepared according to topicality and relevance for the mentees and are treated, for example, by the specific conception of role-plays, theatrical performances and talent shows. The children are actively involved and motivated to reflect on these topics. Additionally, they are learning how to organize their daily routine, take responsibility for themselves and develop social skills. This will greatly strengthen their independence and general performance. For the meetings, young people with an African background are invited to report about their individual professions, educational background and personal life experiences, thus motivating the mentees.
“Vorbilder” is based on the two main points "lack of motivation" and "lack of support" of children with an emigrational background and sometimes quite difficult social circumstances. We provide the children with mentors and a platform that can help them “discover the bits that are remarkable in them, but are yet completely invisible to them.”, build on their strength, harness their natural talents and support in areas that need a bit more attention.
Maybe your context is different from mine and you do not want to establish an entire organization, (and quite frankly, you don't have to) however I bet my money on the fact that you have people in your immediate sphere of influence that could benefit from what you know, they might look up to you. People that might take different decisions in life or be motivated to walk an extra mile simply because you took some time to listen and to transparently share some of your highs and lows. A 15min conversation can transform the life of a young person and reset their trajectory.
Trust me, I have seen it happen.
This principle of knowledge transfer is also the basis of my TED Talk. FoGG is just one example of a much bigger idea and I am looking forward to sharing it with you at TEDxMauerpark.