The Power of Mentorship and Partnership

The Power of Mentorship and Partnership

Over the 8 years that I have written this column, I have interacted with many people who have shared with me some of the incredible things they are doing to make this country a better place.

I have been very struck by the passion that people have to make a difference and just how willing they are to make sacrifices big and small each day to achieve this end. Many have expressed their frustration – a frustration I share on a very deep level –  at not being able to do more. To those I remind us of Mother Teresa’s often quoted: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

By far the most common way that people participate in the healing of our nation is through mentorship. This is almost always informal; we mentor our staff in the workplace, our domestic workers at home, perhaps their kids; educators mentor their learners outside of the formal learning process; religious leaders mentor their flocks; Granny’s and Grandpa’s, aunts and uncles – most of us mentor somebody; young or not so young. It seems that being a mentor to someone is very deeply rooted in our DNA; we do it almost instinctively without giving it a formal name.

There are of course reasons for this; we acknowledge that without healthy and functional younger people in particular, the young themselves and society at large is at risk. So, on one level it is about survival – passing on from one to another the necessary skills to navigate the world and life well. On another level it is tied up in our instincts to care and nurture, which is why we react so viscerally when we read stories of the abuse of children; it goes against every instinct we have.

But science also proves the power of mentorship. Research conducted by the mentorship program Big Brothers Big Sisters tells us that when an adult mentor spends 1 hour a week with a child for one year, that child will be 53% more likely to stay in school; 32% less likely to engage in violence and 46% less likely to use drugs. It is for this reason that I maintain that mentorship – perhaps more than any other intervention – is a critical tool for the healing of our nation.

Over the years that I have been involved in mentorship, I have become convinced that everyone can mentor someone. So, for the purposes of this column I would like to broaden the definition of mentorship so each of us can get a sense of the role we can play. Traditionally, mentorship was seen as an age-based thing i.e. older people mentoring younger people. But some of my best mentors have been younger than me; for example, my dear friend Akhona Ngcobo has mentored me in the ways of Zulu culture. She is several years younger than me. So, mentorship is more about experience in one area or another, than age.

The other perception we should change is that mentorship only benefits the person being mentored. This is perhaps the biggest misconception created by the fact that mentorship relationships have typically been based on an unequal power ratio.  Everyone I know who has enjoyed a powerful mentor-style partnership (whether adult-to-adult or adult-to-youngster) has reported that they grew just as much from the relationship as the mentee did – if not more. This means that we should start viewing and defining mentorship differently.

In South Africa we have phenomenal programs that work on this basis; co-mentorship or what some refer to as “thinking partners”. These programs create partnerships that are totally reciprocal and impact both parties equally. One of the most powerful of these is Partners for Possibility which I have mentioned before. They are leaders in this type of thinking as their program partners school principals from some of the poorest schools in South Africa with a business leader, in a mutually beneficial, generative, adult-to-adult relationship. Some of the leaders are active in business currently, others are retired; some are in small entrepreneurial ventures, others in multi-nationals. They come from different departments within businesses, but all share the same passion; to partner with a school principal in a way that facilitates their respective growth as leaders. This last week, Partners for Possibility achieved the remarkable success of being the only South African NGO to be ranked in the top 500 NGO’s in the world in the 2018 Geneva Rankings by the independent group NGO Advisor. They came in at 97 demonstrating the uniqueness and efficacy of this approach.

For those of us not involved in business or schools there is our local mentorship program, Bright Stars. This assists adults and youngsters to effectively partner with one another. These youngsters may be ones that you are already in relationship with but that you need support with. You might not be in a partnership with a child currently and would like to be. The program offers comprehensive training and support to both adult and youngster for the length of your partnership – usually 1 year.

I extend an invitation to all of you; make 2018 a year in which you partner with someone regardless of age. The contribution you will be making – to yourself, to them and to our nation at large – will be enormous.

For more information about Partners for Possibility e-mail pfp@symphonia.net and for Bright Stars e-mail jo@peaceagency.org.za

Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.  His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.

New Graduates Take a Big Hit

New Graduates Take a Big Hit

My wife and I recently attended the graduation ceremony of a staff member of ours who had completed a course in Early Childhood Development through Embury College. It was quite an affair.

300 odd graduates most of them with a guest, in a conference room at the old airport decked out like a wedding reception; round tables; crisp table clothes; decorations; white chairs with gold tie-backs; a buffet-style meal; an official photographer. Although the courses were short – 1 year – every graduate wore a graduation gown complete with mortar board. We were like proud parents.

Before I continue I should point out that our staff member runs our NGO’s creche up in Hammarsdale near Pietermaritzburg. She is lucky enough to be employed. Many of her fellow graduates will only get work after they qualify and at that, if they are lucky as most of them are young and inexperienced.

We wrongly assumed that her graduation was included in the course fee. So, you can imagine our shock when she told us that she had to cough up R400 to attend her own graduation – they all had (as opposed to the R150 per head us guests paid). And this excluded photos, which is really what they all wanted. Now to put the economics of all this into some perspective, the whole course only cost R1600.

The photographer hustled them relentlessly for business and his price list ranged from R250 for 3 x A4 pics (no frames) to R450 for 3 x A4 pics (no frames). Frames were an extra R50 each. So, if they wanted pictures in a frame, this event would have cost these young, unemployed ladies from some far-flung areas between R650 and R850. That’s before they bought or hired fancy outfits (and they were fancy!) and got transport. Of course, few of them could afford photos and by the end of the event the sleazy photographer was offering pictures for R20.  

Did this event really cost Embury roughly R165,000 to stage (300 x R400 plus 300 x R150)? And why did the guests pay R150 and the graduates R400? R250 for the hire of a graduation gown?

We must celebrate success wherever we find it – particularly in education. But come on Embury! Why not have these graduations in the communities the graduates come from and get local graduates to project manage them for a fee? They can commission community suppliers – cooks, flower arrangers, local DJ’s, photographers et – to do the event at a fraction of the cost and channel the money back into the communities where it is needed most.

Or is there perhaps something I’m missing here?

Staff Keep Their Cool in Home Affairs Hell

Staff Keep Their Cool in Home Affairs Hell

Under the watchful and ever-lazy eye of Jacob Zuma, they toil. His mug beams down upon them along with the unknown (to me at least) Fatima Chohan who serves as the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs.

It is not for the faint-hearted being a Home Affairs employee.  Their place of work is usually hot, stuffy and packed with bodies all radiating heat and irritation. They would be forgiven for being lethargic, lacking passion and over-shooting their breaks. But none of this is true – not where we visit at any rate.

If there is indeed a hell I imagine it will be just like Home Affairs. The place has all the characteristics of Dante’s Inferno; it is mercilessly hot, one glimpses eternity and it is utterly devoid of all soul. Now, it is bad enough going to such a place once every decade or so to renew a passport or replace a stolen ID, but just imagine the torture of working there every day of your life!

In the case of the Home Affairs office we visit, we learn that you must get there no later than 5:00am if you wish to secure a place in the queue. Now this is early – especially If you are renewing your 6-year-old child’s passport too.  Even then, by the time you get into the waiting hall itself – a largish room with metal seats –  it is well after 8:00am.

The staff are in place and waiting for the onslaught; several hundred people all in various stages of physical and mental breakdown and emotional despair. By the way, this breakdown includes severe dehydration because there are no toilets for public use at Home Affairs Kwa-Dukuza. Consequently, nobody drinks anything even in the searing heat. By the time we get our work done it is well after 11:00am. So, we have neither drunk nor peed for 6 odd hours since leaving home. For others this must be 10 hours at least. It is inhumane and needs urgent addressing.

I wonder how long a Home Affairs worker lasts in their job? To have to deal with people in these conditions day in and day out must take its toll in a big way. They are getting it from all sides.

By the way, if you are moneyed you can avoid the whole queuing annoyance altogether. What we noticed is that well off folk pay someone else to queue for them. Then they pull up in their SUV’s just before 8:00am and dismiss the hot and hapless person queuing for them and take their place, slipping them a few bucks for their efforts. We saw this happen many times. Suffice to say it doesn’t breed very good camaraderie between classes.

After the information guy and the photo/fingerprints gent, we deal with 3 people who are at the business end of the applications. I am guessing that these are the employees that take the brunt of people’s wrath because they are the ones that must inform you that despite your gruelling 6-hour wait you will have to come back because you have forgotten something vital like a certified copy of your deceased father’s underpants. However, this is when the excellence really kicks in.

We complete our daughter’s application in double quick time and are then passed efficiently to another person because the first person’s computer is suddenly on a go slow. Even this is a surprise. Surely at Home Affairs they just wait out the go slow? No. They make a plan. The second person is all over my application. It is complete in about 5 minutes flat. But then it comes: “Do you have R140 on you?”. I respond suspiciously by saying we have paid online and demand to know why he needs more money? “Because I see you haven’t done your photocard ID yet Sir, and we have all your information here for your passport application. If you can pay the amount, I can get my Supervisor to authorise it here and now.”

The Supervisor – a friendly lady who takes real flack when dealing with the people in the queue – does not hesitate to assist. Within 5 minutes I have been e-mailed proof of application for both my passport and my ID. I thank him most sincerely: “This is Home Affairs and we are doing our best” he replies humbly.

I want to publicly honour the staff of the Kwa-Dukuza Home Affairs office in particular Nkosinathi Ngwane, Nirasha Gopee and Supervisor Suraifa Abdool. Like so many people in our country, they go above and beyond to serve the citizens of our nation. Next time you find yourself in Home Affairs, join the queue with all the rest of us and remember to thank those people whose hot and thankless job it is to man the gates of hell.

Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency

His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter

 

In the Shoes of the Rock Throwers – Part 2

In the Shoes of the Rock Throwers – Part 2

I recently wrote a post about the incidents of rocks being thrown off bridges on the North Coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal.

The theory – and I do state in the piece that it is a theory – put forward in the piece is that systemic social injustices – i.e. poverty, unemployment and inequality – prevalent in one area compared with untold wealth in neighbouring suburbs, may be creating a fertile seedbed for resentment which can in turn lead to violence. The piece upset and angered some people. I want to sincerely apologise for this because my intention is always to provoke dialogue and promote an alternative narrative, but never to cause anger and resentment. So, let me try to clarify my position.

Rock throwing is a heinous criminal act which I denounce totally. Instances of damage to property due to rock throwing are unacceptable; deaths caused by this act are tragic and criminal and the perpetrators must face the full might of the law.  Is there any excuse for violence? None whatsoever. Are there reasons for it? I argue that there are. As there are with all major crimes.

Now clearly not all people afflicted by poverty, unemployment and inequality will get onto a bridge and throw a rock at a passing vehicle. But some might. Is resentment and bitterness a justification for crime and violence? Absolutely not. Perpetrators of crime and violence should face the full wrath of the law.

But as a society, we have a responsibility – whilst we are bringing these criminals to book – to be analysing every possible root cause of such violent acts. We have a responsibility to seek out ways that we can create a healthy societal context in which violence is not perpetrated in the first place. For example, research tells us that hurt people, hurt people.  This does not mean that people who hurt others shouldn’t face the full might of the law – they should. But as a society we must seek out and apply the necessary healing treatments to create an atmosphere of peace and non-violence.

This will always involve some form of dialogue and the asking of the right (and usually difficult) questions. We dismiss this thinking as bunny hugging/liberal etc at our peril for in our dismissal of the need for social healing, we in turn contribute to the atmosphere of violence and further polarise society. I am delighted that they have apprehended suspects. Now let’s work together to understand why people act violently so we can act together to prevent further violence.

I am aware that many of us – me included – don’t want to believe that poverty is itself a form of violence. When humans are told that houses they were promised 10 years ago will not materialize because a zoo is being built, this is a form of violence against those people; it makes them sub-human. And often people respond to violence with violence. Again, I am in no way condoning this. But until we recognize poverty as a form of violence we will always vilify “the other” (rock throwers, violent protesters etc.) and exonerate ourselves.

I have come to the painful realization that for me to enjoy the privileged life I do, someone (probably many someone’s) necessarily must go without. That is the real and painful truth of inequality and it tears societies apart as was stated just this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Finally, we can and should put cages over bridges. We must catch criminals. But for this not to be a case of kicking the can down the road, we must engage communities to get necessary insights into why violence happens in the first place – and then put actions in place to prevent or at least diminish the chances of recurrence.

For those interested, I am putting together a team that is going to go in and engage local community members on this issue of rock throwing and other forms of violence on the North Coast. Mail me justin@peaceagency.org.za if you would like to get involved.

In the Shoes of the Rock Throwers

In the Shoes of the Rock Throwers

Here on the North Coast of the East Coast of South Africa we are driving scared. This is because people stand on bridges over highways and throw rocks onto cars. This terrifying experience has happened to half a dozen motorists over the past month, and lives – some of them children – have been tragically lost. Meaningless, senseless violence. Or is it?

This stretch of the N2 highway (between Tongaat and Salt Rock) forms a psychological boundary if not exact, between some of the greatest “haves” and the most impoverished “have nots” in South Africa. On one side of the highway we have opulent houses, malls and luxury housing estates. On the other side of the highway, the picture is often very different. Here poverty is on display in all its brutality and people often live in corrugated iron shacks. Our domestic worker recounted the story of a recent violent protest in her neighbourhood of Shakaskraal in which people who live in such shacks took to the streets because the houses they had been promised 10 years ago, had not materialised. 10 years is a life time to wait for a house when you are living in such dire circumstances.

When they asked why their houses would not be built, they were told that the land that had been allocated for housing was no longer available as it was now going to be used to build – wait for it – a zoo.

Now, many of these people work in houses and businesses – on the plush side of the N2. I wonder: if I lived in abject poverty on that side and people lived in multi-million Rand houses on the other side – a stone’s throw away from me- and I was told the land I had waited for for 10 years had been given over to build a zoo, if I wouldn’t feel a little, I don’t know, pissed off. Would I feel violence welling up inside me? I would. No question. I might even take my pain and anger out on those with big homes and fancy cars. This might involve throwing rocks off bridges – or worse.

Now of course this is just a theory. But, whilst we build cages over our bridges, we need to make serious efforts to build emotional, social and psychological bridges between people – off which rocks cannot be thrown.

Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency

His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.