UGHE’s Mentorship Program: Hear from our 2nd Cohort Mentors and Mentees
Especially in light of today’s increasingly complex world, mentorship is a proven tool to help individuals better navigate the demands that they are faced with on a day-to-day basis, whether in the workplace, with regard to their personal relationships, or to encourage healthy behaviors and thinking in general. Effective mentor-mentee relationships can also help learners find and enact their full potential, often providing an illuminating light for them in the otherwise labyrinthine path to career success. Despite these benefits, few formal or institutionalized frameworks exist to connect and support mentees and mentors, with specific needs, who wish to embark upon this journey. The University of Global Health Equity’s (UGHE’s) Mentorship Program is a pioneering two-year program hosted by the Center of Gender Equity that provides such formal frameworks for a transformative mentorship experience in Africa that centers on early career, female, global health professionals. Initiated in May 2020, participants in the two-year mentorship program hail from 27 countries across the globe, representing Europe, South Asia, North America, the Caribbean, and 19 African countries, and make up 71% female and 29% male mentors and mentees.
Some of the participants from our 2nd cohort share their experiences on how they have since benefited from tailored training in career management as well as gained critical skills in leadership, decision-making, negotiation, work-life balance, influencing and motivating others, optimizing cross-functional and diverse teams, and driving culture and change, to name a few. People come into mentorship programs like this one with different expectations and goals, and varying previous mentoring experiences. We asked a few of our current mentors and mentees to share their highlights and some do’s and don’ts they’ve learnt during their first year in the program, and what they are looking forward to in the remaining year.
Can you share some key highlights from your mentorship experience?
UGHE’s Mentorship Program encourages each mentor-mentee pair to find the flow and structure that works best for them, making each pair’s relationship a unique one. For one mentee, Marie Gaudence Nyirahabimana, her highlights have been being ‘mentored in women leadership and writing peer-reviewed publications’ and ‘discussing current and future projects including research, job, and grant projects and/or opportunities’ with her mentor, Dr. Devaki Nambiar, who has continued to provide constructive feedback. Though the Center for Gender Equity hopes to secure funding soon for a convening of the program’s participants, it is thrilling to hear that another highlight for Marie Gaudence has been ‘learning how to generate, nurture relationships and establish trust during virtual mentorship sessions’, which is a very important aspect of this program which has been entirely virtual thus far. It is through facilitating the formation of these connections and tight-knit relationships that mentorship programs earn much of their merit.
Dr. Melanie Etti found comfort and friendship with her mentor, explaining how whenever she ‘successfully achieved [her] goals, [she always] looked forward to [her] meetings so [she] could tell [her mentor] all about them. Similarly, when things didn’t go as planned, [she] was grateful for [having a place] to talk candidly about [her] feelings [and] make a plan of action together.’ It is clear trust is a big part of their mentorship experience, which was easy to foster over time as her mentor ‘never trivialized or overlooked any of [her] feelings and [was] extremely supportive.
Thembisa Kamangila, appreciated that she never felt forced to say or do anything during her experience as a mentee in the UGHE Mentorship Program. Her mentor was always very encouraging and was ‘always ready to tackle [her] questions.’ Thembisa adds how appearing in the UGHE Newsletter was a huge highlight for her, as it was another chance for her parents and family members to see and be proud of her trajectory as a registered pharmacist in her hometown in Malawi.
A highlight for Dr. Arlette Bizimana, another mentee and a medical doctor at the Butaro Hospital, was having her mentor introduced her to the late Dr. Paul Farmer, who she got to work with and learn from in clinical medicine, and ‘more importantly social medicine’, says Dr. Arlette. Not only this, but her mentor, Dr. Eugene Richardson gave her ‘different kinds of guidance in [her] professional career through sharing interesting opportunities and assisting [her] in different applications.’
Not only is this mentorship experience invaluable for mentees, but mentors have also reported immense benefits and connections associated with the mentees that they have grown to work with and know so well over the course of the program’s duration.
For Prof. Julie Botticello, seeing the progression of her mentee over the course of their monthly checkpoints was a very affirming experience. It was during these increments of her mentee’s progression that Prof. Julie felt she could ‘feed-in with emotional, academic or self-development support that [she] found valuable –– to support in the process and to help guide in the process, but also to see that [her mentee] had made decisions and taken full responsibility for the journey, amid its various twists and turns.’ Reciprocity and a ‘bifocal approach’ are key aspects in the program, and one mentor, Dr. Eugene Richardson, experienced it while collaborating with his mentee on a research project, where the biggest highlight for him was ‘getting to know and learn from a future leader in global health’.
What are some do’s and don’ts that you’ve learnt so far?
For a mentoring relationship to work for both parties, there is a need for flexibility, open & honest communication, and compassion among other key characteristics. Mentors and mentees share some of their lessons learnt on what to avoid, and what to do more of.
Mentee Marie Gaudence learned that ‘personal determination, motivation, [and flexibility] are required to generate and nurture [successful] relationships between mentor and mentee, and extra effort must be made to maintain them.’ For her, it was often difficult to make the most out of a remote mentorship program, especially since ‘using [a] camera to support interactions [was] sometimes limited due to internet accessibility or other circumstances.’ She learned just how important ‘eye contact is [as a] communication mechanism in persons’ interactions.’
Noting the importance of communication, mentor Prof. Julie recommends that mentor-mentee pairs should plan ahead and agree on meetings early on in the program, especially if they must navigate a time zone difference or anticipate having different schedules. As a mentor, she found that “being transparent and open, about what I know, what I don’t know, being open and willing to learn and grow, and being a real person” were the most respectable and impressive traits to find in a mentor – one that could really help to develop more of a friendship rather than a power hierarchy within the mentor-mentee relationship.
Dr. Eugene agrees that through this type of transparency and openness, mentors and mentees will be able to ‘just follow the river together,’ which is paramount since, as he states, “you can’t always plan what you will share with [or] learn from a mentee.’
For Dr. Arlette, it was important for the mentor to allow the mentee to lead the communication. This would facilitate the mentee in ‘identifying goals they want to achieve, their expectations, and communicating them to the mentors and proposing how they wish [for them] to help.’ But she makes it clear that ‘the mentee should not expect the mentor to act in their place or search for all of [their] answers, [and that] both mentees and mentors should [never] fail to make time.’ Thembisa agrees and adds that neither mentors nor mentees should ever take too long to reply or have unrealistic expectations for each other.
Still, Dr. Melanie suggests that it can still be great to ‘really harness the expertise that your mentor is bringing to your relationship.’ Especially if the mentees are able to be clear about what they need from their mentors, as ‘mentors cannot anticipate what you need from them. It is, therefore, important that you set the pace and express clearly what you want or need help with so that your mentor will then be able to provide guidance that is suited to your needs.’
As Dr. Gad Ruzaaza said, his role as a mentor is to support as opposed to being in the driver’s seat, and so far, ‘it has been a ‘win-win’ situation.’ Once this type of dynamic is established, it will likely be easier to engender trust and comfort in each mentorship session.
This is also the case for Dr. Esther Njoroge, who credits her mentee’s commitment for her motivation as a mentor, and for the reason, she and the mentee, Mariella Munyuzangabo, ‘took to each other like fish to water’.
What do you look forward to working on, or doing more of with the remaining half of your official time in the program?
Efficient mentorships require setting realistic, achievable goals, which the Center for Gender Equity facilitates by providing an agreement form where expectations are agreed upon and set in terms of goals and their metrics, communication frequency and modes, and how to resolve conflict. Knowing that unexpected things come up in life, disrupting short and long-term goals, we advise pairs to meet every 6-12 months to review and update these terms as needed.
Being at the halfway point of the 2 year-long program, we checked in with our mentees and mentors on what they are planning for the remaining year in the program.
Marie Gaudence is looking forward to ‘developing networks with other mentees so [she] can learn from their experiences and work with them in future projects’, which the Center is working towards with planned Mentees-only, Mentors-only and All Cohorts networking sessions. With her remaining year, Marie Gaudence’s personal goals are to ‘write a peer reviewed publication as first author with the support of [her] mentor, write a grant proposal, present [her] published paper in a research seminar, as well as improve [her] research and leadership knowledge and skills [alongside] her mentor.’ Dr. Arlette would like to ‘work on more research projects with the guidance and coaching of [her] mentor, acquiring more knowledge and skills with different kinds of training.’ Because many participants have such life-changing experiences through mentorship programs and dynamic personal lives, they end up wishing to continue their relationships past the program’s official date of termination. Thembisa wishes to continue ‘get[ting] more guidance from [her] mentor as [she] juggles becoming a new mom and [pursuing her] Master’s degree [at the same time]’ and as for Dr. Devaki, ‘I don’t want to stop the mentorship because I also really need it.’ Dr. Melanie, who has just obtained her Master’s in Public Health from Harvard University and is now starting in a new role, looks forward to ‘working with [her mentor] to achieve the next steps in [her] career in Global Health.’
For many mentors, their goals for the remainder of the program involve reflection, improvement, and progress. Prof. Julie looks forward to ‘reflecting on [her mentor-mentee relationship’s] current rhythm and processes and considering if [a revisit is necessary]’ and Dr. Eugene is excited to have more conversations and to ‘come up with new ideas to work on together.’ These types of ever-growing, flexible, long-term relationships should be more accessible and continue to connect people from all different walks of life who have so much to learn from each other, even if it may not be apparent at first glance.
UGHE’s Mentorship Program’s three-year old initiative is made possible because of various experienced leaders willing to volunteer their time and expertise to shape global health leaders in-the-making, and mentees putting in the work and energy required to maintain the relationship and make the most out of it.
Lauren Kim, Harvard College Class of 2023 – Chemistry, Biomedical Sciences & Engineering, Global Health & Health Policy, and Spanish Language
Umucyo Deborah, Center for Gender Equity Coordinator – University of Global Health Equity
- Dr. Arlette Bizimana, Medical Doctor – Butaro Hospital
- Dr. Devaki Nambiar, Program Head – Health Systems and Equity at the George Institute for Global Health
- Dr. Esther Njoroge, Senior Vice President, Global Medical Programs – Smile Train
- Dr. Eugene Richardson, Assistant Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Global Health Equity – Brigham and Women’s Hospital | Consultant – Africa CDC
- Dr. Gad Ruzaaza, Head of Community Based Education Research and Service (COBERS) Program – Mbarara University of Science and Technology
- Professor Julie Botticello, Senior Lecturer in Public Health – University of East London
- Marie Gaudence Nyirahabimana, Consultant – Masters in Clinical Psychology and Therapeutics
- Mariella Munyuzangabo, Associate Director, Maternal, Neonatal, Child and Adolescent Health – Inshuti mu Buzima/Partners in Health
- Dr. Melanie Etti, Research Assistant, Global Health and Population Department – Harvard University
- Thembisa Kamangila, Pharmacist and Deputy In-Charge, Drugstore Department – Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, Malawi