How Mentorship Makes Innovation Possible

How Mentorship Makes Innovation Possible

How Mentorship Makes Innovation Possible

Data for Local Impact Innovation Challenge (DLIIC) is a national project, supported by several partners, that helps young people learn how to innovate. DLIIC provides support for innovative solutions that use data to positively impact lives, often adolescent girls and young women. However, just as with business undertakings, innovation projects face real challenges to survive and become sustainable. To increase the chances of success from ideation through prototype and scale up, DLIIC provides mentoring to innovators using a proven methodology and practices. As a result, ten out of twelve initial innovation projects have been successful completed, and some are already scaling up.

What is a Mentor?

The word “mentor” comes from Greek mythology. In the Odyssey, an epic Greek poem, before Odysseus sets out on his epic voyage, he entrusts his son to the care and direction of his old and trusted friend Mentor (who was, in fact, a woman — the Goddess Athena in disguise!).

Modern mentoring is based on the concept of apprenticeship, in which a more experienced individual passes down knowledge about how to perform a task and how to operate in the commercial world. Mentoring taps a basic human instinct – the desire to pass on our learning to help other people grow and fulfil their potential. Many examples of ‘mentoring’ relationships exist in different cultures: the Guru in India, the Master in China, and the Village Elder in Africa.

Mentoring is often compared with similar support services, such as coaching. Sometimes the two terms are even used interchangeably. Although definitions of “coaching” and “mentoring” vary in different contexts, we make the following distinction: Mentoring has a long-term focus aimed at broadening the mentee’s perspectives and extending his/her horizons. It encourages self-reliance and self-confidence, and is aimed at drawing out untapped potential. Coaching has a shorter-term focus and seeks to improve specific skills, knowledge or behaviours related to the mentee’s day-to-day business.

In DLIIC, mentoring can be described as a partnership between two people who have different levels of experience. A mentor provides support and opportunities for development, and confronts issues and challenges (identified by either the mentee or the mentor). Mentoring is a positive, developmental activity, not a remedial one. Mentoring at DLIIC is structured such that mentors are recruited and trained on its meaning and objectives and on to its function within the project framework. At the same time, DLIIC sub-grantees (the mentees in this programme) are trained on the meaning and objectives of mentoring and on their roles in the relationship.

Three Key Phases of DLIIC Mentoring

DLIIC sub-grantees must complete three phases in their innovation project. The DLIIC mentor-mentee relationship mirrors these three key phases, evolving as the sub-grantee progresses through each phase.

Stage one: Sub-grantees gather information from various stakeholders that may benefit from the innovation. This information provides a base from which the sub-grantee can explore wider issues that an innovator must consider when developing the solution that will address community challenges using data. This stage ends when the sub-grantee prepares a design drawing of the solution to be developed. During this stage, mentors assist sub-grantees to collect and analyse sufficient and relevant information.

Stage two: Sub-grantees develop the innovative solution that they had set out to create using DLIIC funds. During this time, sub-grantees face the challenge of balancing experimentation against a set timeframe to complete the prototype. Mentors assist sub-grantees to stay on course and solve challenges that might arise between innovating and project management, both of which are relatively new to the mentees. As sub-grantees near the end of this stage, it is important for mentor to start thinking about bringing the relationship to an end.

Stage three: A sub-grantee’s innovation is considered complete when it provides answers to community problems and satisfies the innovator. During this stage, sub-grantees bring their innovation (the solution) to its intended users for feedback. The mentoring relationship at this stage includes, among other things, deliberate discussion to develop the mentee’s self-reliance and prepare him/her for independence. This conversation is essential to ensure that the mentee is fully prepared to ‘go it alone’ and prevents one party from becoming dependent on the other after the mentoring period ends.

Mentorship is a key component of DLIIC’s efforts to support youth and entrepreneurs to create data-driven solutions for real life problems. Our mentors have already helped ten of the twelve 1st Challenge winners to complete their projects, and are now helping the ten winners of the 2nd Challenge Window.

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