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Mentorship, Coaching, Board Service, Sponsorship…How Will You Pay it Forward TODAY?


By Liz Ngonzi 
International entrepreneur, speaker, and educator

I'm really thrilled about and honored by the opportunity to share my perspective on "Paying it Forward" through this blog post and on May 1st during the Wilson Center's African Women and Youth as Agents of Change through Technology and Innovationevent, as part of its Paying it Forward: How to Sustain New Generations of Female and Youth Leaders in STI panel.

My awesome mom, Hilda Rwabazaire Paqui always likes to remind me that from the time I was a teenager, I've always been sought out as a mentor to others. She instilled in me the necessity of giving back to others as a means to demonstrate my gratitude for all the blessings I've received in my life.  When the Wilson Center contacted me to participate in its event and subsequently requested that I write a piece, I was naturally excited to do both, as I am being provided with the opportunity to share how I've "paid it forward," supporting others with similar perspectives about the interconnectedness of who we are as people. I am particularly interested when this allows me to engage with Africa, as I was born in Uganda and am passionate about the continent as a whole.

Given that the focus of the Wilson Center's May 1st event is on Africa, I want to first share with you a concept, really more of a worldview or philosophy, that I believe encompasses the essence of the event – "Ubuntu". This word originates from the Bantu speaking people of Africa (including Uganda) and can literally be translated to: "I am because of who we all are."  I use "Ubuntu" to remind myself that my journey is connected to others in the global community and therefore it's incumbent upon me that, while I seek assistance from others in pursuing my goals, I am mindful of the necessity of giving back and also paying forward the kindness showed to me to along my journey.  Therefore, I am writing this piece against this backdrop and will share my experiences on May 1st that I hope will inspire you to do the same.

My mother's recognition that I'm someone who others seek out for advice, assistance or even support has played out in my various professional and personal identities – as an educator, consultant, mentor, coach, board member, and volunteer.  During my May 1st presentation, I will focus on specific examples of organizations with whom I've engaged in different capacities, depending on their needs and my own constraints, and who are working to advance young people and women in various parts of Africa, while leveraging technology to do so. One of the key factors that I believe has connected me to these organizations is our alignment around shared values, passions, and commitment to advancing the African continent's people.

I believe we can all exemplify the philosophy of "Ubuntu" in order to "pay it forward" through employing one, multiple or all four concepts listed below, either one at a time, all at once or a couple at a time:

  1. Mentorship – This is the least formal relationship you can have with an organization or individual to which you want to provide assistance.  It ranges from a brief encounter in the form of an email, a fixed-duration phone call, or Skype session during which you provide the organization or individual with specific feedback or suggestions about how to move their mission / goals forward.  While this level of interaction can be brief, or it can extend beyond, depending on how engaged you are during the initial interaction.  I've personally engaged in informal mentoring relationships that have ranged from the aforementioned one-time contacts to periodic "re-engagements" sparked by milestones or critical changes that I, as the mentor, observed could potentially assist or hurt protégés and which I believed I should bring to their attention.  Of course, given the informal nature of this type of relationship, it's incumbent upon the protégé to keep the mentor abreast of new developments or even reach out when advice is needed, depending upon the agreed upon protocol at the time of the initial engagement.
  2. Coaching/Consulting –This type of relationship is most likely based on specific objectives that the organization or individual receiving the assistance has expressed to the coach/consultant.  Professional coaches/consultants who require a fee for their services and expertise often identify and develop specific goals that need to be accomplished with accompanying timelines.  Generally speaking, the coach/consultant has specific expertise, provides guidelines about how the potential value provided can be obtained, and monitors the organization's or individual's progress accordingly.  This type of relationship has definite metrics against which the coach's performance can be objectively measured in the form of Return on Investment (ROI).
  3. Board MembershipDepending on the organization's self-identified goals, the level and duration of relationship can vary greatly and its impact on the organization's goals is only as useful as the initial manner in which the engagement is defined.  In some instances, an organization desperate to affiliate their brands with those of potential board members may only ask them to lend their names. This might result in a very imbalanced relationship when the organization gets to the point of seeking funding or has other specific needs that could potentially be fulfilled by board members, but is limited by the scope of engagement at the beginning of the relationship.  Typically, organizations that outline specific requests of their potential board members, such as minimal levels of financial support or volunteer time commitment, either through "give or get" models or minimal levels of time commitment will result in relationships that are most beneficial to both parties.
  4. Sponsorship – This type of relationship is most beneficial to the organization or individual that has provided information about the mission and impact (current or potential) that compels the sponsor to "go to bat for" for them on a long-term basis.  Through this type of relationship, the sponsor not only potentially provides their own financial support and time, he/she leverages his/her social capital to provide the beneficiary with access to opportunities that they otherwise would never be able to have.  This type of relationship requires a longer-term cultivation on the part of the organization/individual. However, its potential impact can be quite substantial, particularly if the sponsor has fully bought-in and has the level of influence to make a real impact.

Finally, as you learn about the various initiatives focused on Africa's development that will be presented by the speakers on the May 1st event, please consider how you could potentially contribute to their efforts, even if you're unable to travel to the areas where they work.  I must mention that despite the fact that I often travel to Africa, the majority of the relationships with the organizations and individuals that I've established have originated online, with some of our interactions moving offline (in-person), but mostly supported by social media – Twitter and Facebook have really been great platforms to do so.  One of my favorite means of remaining connected to geographically dispersed contacts is via Skype, based on its cost effectiveness and ability to enable me to speak with and in best case scenarios, see (depending on the bandwidth strength in the country) the people with whom I'm interacting.  We now live in a world where we can discover, connect to, and engage with those making the type of impact we want to support, without the encumbrances of time, geography, or even language…we just have to be willing to move out of our comfort zones to be able to practice Ubuntu and ultimately pay the blessings with which we've been afforded forward.

How will you pay it forward TODAY?


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The Africa Program works to address the most critical issues facing Africa and US-Africa relations, build mutually beneficial US-Africa relations, and enhance knowledge and understanding about Africa in the United States. The Program achieves its mission through in-depth research and analyses, public discussion, working groups, and briefings that bring together policymakers, practitioners, and subject matter experts to analyze and offer practical options for tackling key challenges in Africa and in US-Africa relations.    Read more