January 12, 2023
GetFundedAfrica’s program team hosted its first event of 2023, a virtual mentor networking meeting.
Presided by its team lead Efe Ogundowole, it was titled “Leading Through You”, and had about five mentors present, and about thirty-five audience members connecting from across the globe in several cities like Japan, Nigeria, Cape Town, Berlin, Shanghai, Canada, etc.
The event was insightful and engaging as the mentors shared their experiences gathered over the years. The importance of mentorship within the African startup ecosystem cannot be over-emphasized. It is a necessary catalyst for human growth and development.
On this note, the meeting addressed issues on mentorship like what it was, and how it worked for us as individuals and as founders. It also served as an avenue for mentors/mentees to network across the board.
A Panel of Mentors
The event had a panel session made up of experienced and accomplished individuals from diverse professional backgrounds such as Nicole Dunn, COO Revio; Lolu Adubifa, special adviser to the Ogun State Government on Energy; Zumah Yahaya, founder, Boubid Africa; Jim Huang, investor, Zero Hash; and Ireayo Oladunjoye, tech consultant, Debola Omololu, CEO and co-founder of GetFundedAfrica.
These mentors answered questions regarding mentorship and how it affected the African startup ecosystem. They included:
1. What Inspired You to Become a Mentor?
Jim Huang stated that being a startup founder could be a very lonesome journey. As one himself, he had received so much support in his journey and wanted to give back to help other founders too. To him, it was about making friends and building healthy relationships.
While Zumah Yahaya had no support system whatsoever; hence her desire to be that support system for others. She had no mentor or guidance which would have made her path shorter and more enjoyable.
2. Do You Have Mentors Who Influenced You to Walk This Path?
Ireayo Oladunjoye said she has several mentors, and defined mentorship as a “relationship with a mentee in exchange of knowledge and guidance”. She went on to explain that she is a huge believer in reading people’s autobiographies, as most times you are mentored by people just by knowing their stories. To her, mentorship is basically working with people to explore your career path, help you set smarter goals, and learn from their mistakes. Basically, standing on their experiences and also leveraging on their network.
Lolu Adubifa pitched in too and pointed out that throughout his career journey, he always had several mentors. This is because he has always been interested in having a better understanding of whatever space he is working in or working on.
3. How Do You Encourage Innovative Ideas?
Nicole Dunn responded based on her experience working with young people, saying that they are not short on ideas; they are very creative, innovative, and thirsty for knowledge. They need that someone to be their sounding board and guide them. In her opinion, they should be encouraged and helped to build more confidence in their ability to develop businesses and maybe challenge the boundaries they set for themselves.
While ZumaYahaya tries to encourage innovative ideas by getting her mentees to focus on self-problem-solving instead of helping to solve their problems. She also encourages them to think outside the box “because when you feel like I need to figure this out, nobody is going to figure it out for you”. She further explained that one can only be taken through the process of figuring it out like problem-solving, but at the end of the day, it is one’s problem and that goes a long way to stimulating innovation.
4. As a Mentor, Have You Experienced Burnout?
As the saying goes, you cannot pour from an empty jar.
Debola Omololu, the CEO, GetFundedAfrica, insightfully responded to this question, using his experience as a template. “If a mentee spreads out things in the right way and time dedicated accordingly, it helps prevent burn out”. To buttress this point, he explained that he has multiple, active mentors (about 6/7) he talks to regularly. However, he spreads out his communication time with them – some daily, others weekly, or every month.
On the other hand, Jim Huang’s response to this question was different. To him, experiencing burnout as an individual and a founder is natural and expected; in fact, it is part of being a founder. However, it could be minimized. In this regard, a mentor’s health is important to take into consideration. He advised that founders, mentors, and people adopt a healthy fun activity because it could be helpful. For him, a massage, karaoke, and active sports help manage his burnout.
5. Does Your Value Affect Your Mentor/Mentee Relationship?
This question stirred up a lot of reactions and opinions from the audience and mentors. Opening the floor was Ireayo Oladunjoye and her explanation was based on her experience over the years. She believes it is necessary for both the mentor and mentee to have aligned interests. To this question, she stated, “Yes, my values affect all my relationships”.
Next, was Nicole Dunn who said, “Your values do impact how you show up in any relationship” However, it is important not to impose your values on your mentee.” Good mentoring is about asking the right questions as opposed to being judgemental.
For Zumah Yahaya, mentorship is usually mentee-focused and not on herself. Generally, she doesn’t allow her values to override the mentorship relationship. The focus is on helping the mentee to become the best version of themselves as opposed to imposing her values on them. “However, when the supposed values are ethical ones, there might be a need to step back to avoid a conflict of values.” She further explained that her role as a mentor is to serve as a sounding board to the mentee and also provide guidance.
Lolu Adubifa concluded this by adding that openness and honesty are great mentor/mentee relationship characteristics. “If you push your values to become professional values, you will ameliorate a lot of what you are trying to get at, which means it’s not much as personal, but it’s more focused on what you are trying to accomplish. And I think that just comes with being open, listening to what the mentee is trying to accomplish, and honesty in the relationship.”
6. In Your Opinion, What is the Best Quality a Mentor Should Possess?
According to Lolu Adubifa, there are three character traits a mentor should possess:
- Be a good listener without judgment.
- Be able to give honest feedback with integrity, as this builds confidence and trust in the relationship.
- Be open; open to various ideas, moods and methods.
Nicole Dunn supported Lolu Adubifa in being a good listener and giving honest feedback. She also added that a good mentor must ask insightful questions. This helps empower the mentee to self-problem-solving which can be easily achieved through insightful questions.
7 If You Had to Mentor Millenials or Gen Z, Are There any Differences, and What are They?
Nicole found this question rather exciting because she is on the border of Gen Z. She started by describing Gen Z as very internet friendly, raised on social media more often than not, having a side hustle, and having many challenges of achieving the same standard of living as their parents due to inflation. They seek answers. On this note, she feels that they are candidates for mentoring.
Zumah Yahaya’s take on this? There is a difference between mentoring Gen Z and millennials; however, the similarities are. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, stability, recognition, and value addition is the end goal. The difference was in the approach used to achieve things. As a mentor, it is important to address common values and make room for the differences; identify the mentee’s needs, and meet them at the point of their needs. It goes a long way to meeting their mentorship objectives.
Lolu Adubifa adopted both Nicole Dunn and Zumah Yahaya’s takes. However, his emphasis was on avoiding stereotypes but relating to both Gen Z and millennials with professionalism.
8. Being a Mentor, How Do You Challenge Underlying Beliefs and Assumptions?
Lolu Adubifa answered this question from two different perspectives, first, from a professional point of view based on his industrial background; he tends to hold onto what he called an industry scan, using benchmarking to understand arising questions like what the issues or challenges may be. The second perspective is from a personal perspective. He maintained that conversations anchored on openness and honesty would always make the relationship thrive.
For Zumah Yahaya, underlying assumptions were biased in trying to understand what was and wasn’t. Instead, she would rather ask questions and get clarity. Getting to know people helps you from being biased.
While Nicole Dunn reminded herself daily that she could learn something from absolutely everyone, and approaching people with this mentality helps her build good relationships and also challenged her personal and professional beliefs. She also mentioned that another way of challenging your underlying beliefs was through travelling, it gives you a complete paradigm shift. In her summary, there is actually no right or wrong way of doing things.
Breakout Session (Networking & Bonding)
Right after the panel discussion was a breakout session. A networking moment for all participants. It entailed mentors and participants mixing and getting to know one another during a stipulated time frame. This part of the event was a huge success, as attendees received so much value. The meeting recorded around 40 people in attendance.
GetFundedAfrica, through the programs team, intends to organize similar engaging and insightful events in the future to drive awareness of the importance of good mentorship for startup founders within the African ecosystem.
GetFundedAfrica is building Africa’s largest tech-enabled marketplace, connecting African founders with global mentors, coaches, corporates, investors, and government. Whether you want to raise funds ranging from $100, 000 to $50m or you want to grow your business, sign up for free at: www.getfundedafrica.com.