Making a ‘lifelong difference’ through mentoring

Ipas South Africa’s director puts women and girls first

When a young woman started working as a cleaner at Ipas South Africa’s office in January, her responsibilities included cleaning the office, tidying up workspaces and watering the plants. But she was eager to learn more and expressed interest in helping with administrative tasks.

Caroline Mbi-Njifor, Ipas South Africa director, took this to heart. The team is researching conscientious objection and was looking for field researchers to conduct interviews and collect data. Mbi-Njifor offered the woman the opportunity to train and try out a data capturing role, while continuing to clean the office three days a week. The arrangement could continue if things went well. They did, and now the woman spends two days a week in the field, conducting interviews. She has really appreciated the opportunity, says Mbi-Njifor. “Every time she comes back from the field, she’s so excited.”

Mentoring is “is one of the ways for me to show that Ipas South Africa and Ipas globally are not only talking about advocating for women’s rights,” says Mbi-Njifor. “We’re really very eager to live out that mission in every way possible.”

Mbi-Njifor also recently promoted two talented female data capturers and previously mentored another woman through the Young African Leaders Initiative. “One of my driving forces is mentoring women into roles and opportunities that they might not traditionally have had access to,” she says. “As an organization that is women- and girl-centered, we need to go the extra mile to walk our talk.”

Mbi-Njifor is now helping the three women settle into their new roles. “The path to promote is easy,” she says—it’s more challenging to help people excel in their roles. “I’m looking forward to that, because that’s where we really make a lifelong difference in young women’s lives.”

How might other leaders effectively mentor women and girls? Mbi-Njifor believes there are three approaches to mentoring. The relationship can be formal and structured, with proposed goals, or it can be more of an understanding between a mentor and a mentee, focusing on personal development for both. And role models can also be mentors from afar.

“When you’ve been privileged to grow your career, you don’t do it by yourself,” she says. “Others must have believed in you along the way and trusted you.” Mbi-Njifor is driven by gratitude to others who have done this for her and a desire to pay it forward. She believes that leaders are “entrusted to impact the lives of those you work with and the lives of those your work serves. If the only thing I do is be useful to those who see me every day, then I would have done my little bit in the world.”

For more information, contact media@ipas.org.

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