Why Businesses ‘die’ before their 5th birthday By Serrainne Nyamori

The other day I was having a chat with my good friend about her son Tevin who just turned 5 years old and the family had an elaborate celebration for him. Now Tevin is a charismatic, dramatic, unadulterated, unapologetic sensitive child with an uncanny sense of humour! My friend narrated how prior to his big day he had 5 different thematic nights for all the 5 nights prior to his fifth, made visits to 5 places he had not been to before, was bought for 5 new educative toys, tried out 5 new foods/dishes, learnt 5 new skills including proper and safe use of scissors and glue and finally 5 cake cutting occasions for him and his friends. (I think the world needs to meet Tevin )

So what is so special about celebrating a 5 year olds birthday?

World Health Organization (WHO) under the Global Health Observatory (GHO) data reports that 5.9 million children under the age of five died in 2015, i.e 16,000 every day and 11 children die every minute. (http://www.who.int/gho/child_health/mortality/mortality_under_five_text/en/). More than half of these deaths are due to preventable and treatable conditions like pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria and malnutrition. The priority here then is to end preventable deaths of children under 5 years of age. Like high child mortality rate, business/organizations barely make it to their fifth ‘birthdays’. Why?

Businesses and Organizations at risk

I chose to liken a new business/organization to a growing child. This is because, like a child, businesses at their infancy require attention, care and dedication. When one is starting a new business venture the last thing they want to focus on is its perennial failure.

A recent World Bank report shows that the world needs 600 million new good jobs for economic and societal development. Research equally points out that about 50% of new companies fail in their first five years. Another sobering fact is that not all start-ups /new companies create jobs. An even fewer number survive, grow, hire people and are sustainable. Is there a particular reason for this entrepreneurial failure? How can new businesses then meet the rising demand for good jobs in order to flourish?

The global burden of failing businesses is rapidly increasing and there is urgent need to address common reasons for failure upfront. There are, however key factors that, if not avoided, will certainly ‘kill’ your business. Several expert opinions abound on reasons for business failure. Thus I give you my top 5 reasons for business failure:

Reason 1 – The Entrepreneur

There’s no one particular reason for an entrepreneurs failure. Some run out of money, face challenges with regulatory authorities, markets change and they are unable to meet the new demands or simply, don’t have the talent, skills or the passion for the venture. Ultimately, the success of a new business has a lot to do with the person starting that business. This individual, who is at the centre of running the business in highly uncertain circumstances, needs to be equipped with information, knowledge and most importantly personal drive, creativity and the ability to take risks.

Reason 2 – Poor Management

Poor management is often equated to lack of experience. This might be true in most cases but not all of them. Poor management takes many forms including hiring the wrong people, lack of planning, poor management of finances, not studying the market or collecting customer data, lack of relevant expertise in production, purchasing, selling and not monitoring every aspect of your business, I know of many people who have all the right qualities of an entrepreneur but making poor management choices has cost them and their businesses dearly. Ultimately, a successful manager is also a good leader who has the ability to think strategically, actualize their vision, envision future possibilities for the business, be open to change and create a conducive work environment that enhances productivity.

Management’s failure to act, react, or plan is a sure recipe for any organizations failure.

Reason 3 – Location, Location, Location!

An amazing idea, housed in a great 5 star building but with poor location could be an impending reason for your business’ failure. It is important to find an address where customers and clients can visibly find you, walk in and enquire about your products or services. Some factors to consider when choosing a suitable location are: condition and safety of the building, location of your competitors and customers, accessibility, traffic, parking and street lighting. With the appropriate and right location, a struggling business can leverage on their visibility and thrive. Location is Key!

Reason 4 – Poor cash flow

Cash flow is the lifeline of your business and the last thing you want to experience is inadequate cash reserves or having it tied up in unpaid invoices. A common mistake of failed businesses is making unrealistic expectations of incoming revenue and operating with insufficient funds. One is often advised to have enough cash to run operations within the first six months to two years (depending on the nature of the business) or so before the business starts registering any feasible returns.

Reason 5 – Lack of Focus and Planning

Trying to be everything to everyone is a sure road to failure. It is important to create a niche for your business by focusing on what you do best. This way you will be able to provide better services and create happy satisfied customers.

Most businesses equally lack strategic business plans. This is a detailed document that shows what the business intends to achieve within an intended period of time (one year, three years or five years), how you intend to achieve the organizations goals, specific timelines and persons responsible. It is important that the strategic business plan be communicated to all key stakeholders so as to ensure everyone is working towards the same goal. Quarterly and bi-annual reviews are also encouraged to review progress and make required periodic changes.

Bonus Reason J – Failure to seek professional advice

Seeking professional advice can really help revitalize your business.

As you can see, all reasons support why you should consider hiring an organization development and sustainability consultant when starting or growing a business.

Happy 5th Birthday to all the businesses that have made it thus far. We celebrate you!


Serrainne Nyamori


The writer is the Founder and Lead consultant for Sustainability Africa, an organization Development and CSR/Sustainability Strategy firm based in Nairobi, Kenya.


For more advice, insight and best practice sustainability services for your business contact us:

Email: info@sustainability-africa.com , Website: www.sustainability-africa.com Tel: +254 732 396919


This content is editorially independent and has not been sponsored by any brand.


Employers want certain skills. Employees don’t have them. Why?

A few weeks ago, a distraught client called and urgently requested for a meeting. During our 3 hour talk, he intimated to me that his organization is facing a skills shortage and that this acute lack of talent is threatening growth and competitiveness of his organization in his industry. From our conversation, it was rather clear that there is a significant gap between his organization’s skill needs and the current capabilities of its workforce.

Skills gap

An organization faces a skills gap when its employees do not have the right skills to deliver results and drive the organizations goals and strategies. This is a risky place to be as the organization can no longer grow and/or remain competitive in its industry.

What are some of the biggest gaps?

  • Basic skills

There is a shared frustration from Human Resources Managers and Recruiters that a significant portion of employees lack these ‘basic but not so basic skills’. These include research and information gathering, writing, decision-making, planning and prioritizing, problem solving, critical thinking, team work, etc.

  • Technical skills

These are skills that reflect specific practical knowledge and are required to accomplish a specific task. Employers often screen candidates based on their technical skills, so as a job seeker or employee, you may want to make sure you present these skills properly. These include driving, data analysis, specialised ICT skills, email, project management, training, needs analysis, database management etc

  • Professional skills

These are mostly industry specific skills. To be successful, all working individuals and professionals needs significant competency in their chosen area of practice. These include IT proficiency, content writing and editing, recruitment, carer coaching, nursing and midwifery etc

  • Management and leadership

A lot has been debated on whether one needs to be a better manager or a better leader. Fact is, a successful job seeker, employee or business owner needs to be both a strong manager and leader to get their teams to follow them as they work towards their shared vision. Some of the key skills needed to achieve this include organising teams, delivering on the organization’s mission, strategic leadership, strategic planning, staff productivity, employee inspiration and motivation, Foster commitment etc

  • Emotional intelligence

This is the capacity of an individual to recognise their own and other people’s emotions and to use that information to guide their thinking and behaviour/actions. Employers value Emotional Intelligence (EI) over Intelligence Quotient (IQ) because people with high EI tend to be empathetic towards their colleagues, lead by example, are generally calm under pressure, have the ability to resolve conflict effectively and they are more likely to put more consideration in business decisions. Here’s even more exciting news, one study found that companies with high EI managers registered a 34% higher profit growth!

  • Language & Communication Skills

I shudder at how our present generation writes and speaks. Just the other day, I was communicating via text message and eventually a phone conversation to a sales agent from a new provider who was meant to coordinate internet connection to my house. With missing letters, reversed syllables and poor grammar, I eventually called the head office to lodge a complaint about his language and communication skills. Well, these critical skills include the ability to master the use appropriate body language, delivering a well written speech, clear verbal communication, personal presentation and appearance, effective listening etc

What then is causing these gaps?

  • Educational attainment is lagging the need for skills.

At the very core, the skills gap is an education issue. There is a wanting mismatch between our current education curriculum and the skills demand in the labour market. There is equally a strong shared belief that education from first grade through College/University and career training is outdated and needs to be revised.

  • The nature of jobs are changing

The workplace has gone digital transforming how we collaborate and produce results. The impact of emerging technology is quickly outpacing our present expertise. Millennial’s and generation Z’s are also less likely to stay with one employer for their entire career making employers compete for talent to meet their skills demand.

  • Businesses are not employing strategies to leverage staff performance

The key investment that any business has is not necessarily its technology but its people! In today’s world, businesses that fail to consistently review their learning and development practices often struggle with growth and productivity. Therefore, the key to achieving high impact staff performance is to include performance improvement strategies like mobile learning solutions and social learning activities into the learning / training process. This is commonly referred as High Impact Learning.

What are some of the signs that your organization may be facing a skills gap?

– There is a mismatch between the skills the organization needs (current and future) and the capabilities of the workforce. e.g an organisation needs more IT savvy staff while the current ones have little or no training in new and emerging technologies

– A high staff turnover

– The organization did not invest in learning and development /capacity building for the it employees and is struggling to catch up on their performance.

– The increasing number of highly skilled, specialized jobs needed to take the organization forward

– A high percentage of baby boomers in the workforce that are or will soon be heading for retirement

How do we attempt to solve the skills gap crisis in our organizations?

  1. Understand the organization’s key strategies and performance metrics. Be sure you know the answers to these questions, and can articulate the connection between key business metrics and learning.
  2. Identify core business functions and organizational strategies that depend on skilled talent for their execution.
  3. Assess the skills gap. Understand the demographics of your workforce. Are many employees nearing retirement? Are you at risk of losing key skills if employees leave?
  4. Identify targets for closing the gap between current skill sets and those needed to support the future goals of the organization
  5. Create an organization wide learning plan to address skills gaps by measuring employees’ progress on the learning plans against individual and organizational goals and communicate the impact. This can be achieved by deploying learning resources through an internal learning management system.

Serrainne Nyamori


The writer is the Founder and Lead consultant for Sustainability Africa, a Management Consulting and CSR Strategy firm based in Nairobi, Kenya. For more of our services please visit us at www.sustainability-africa.com or Email info@sustainability-africa.com

Whats wrong with cHaNGe By Serrainne Nyamori

Change by its very nature carries assumptions, values and beliefs which eventually determine whether an individual will accept or reject the process. An individual’s culture needs to be rejuvenated and constantly revised in order to thrive in today’s difficult and increasingly competitive environment. This transformation takes time, effort and commitment.

In an interesting twist, the human brain adapts to three basic types of change. To strengthen current behaviours; to modify existing behaviour patterns; and to accommodate completely new behaviours. We will focus on accommodating completely new behaviours.

Let us assume you were offered an opportunity to urgently learn a new skill. Unless you are a modern day genius, the first thoughts on your mind would be ‘How long will it take me to gain mastery?’, ‘What if I fail?’

Automatically ,your mind launches into personal and social anxiety and the quick – fix solution to this would be to ‘flee’ from the situation by either declining the offer or finding excuses as to why you cannot do it. This however, becomes a real problem, a costly one at that.

Reasons why we resist change

There are several reasons why we would resist change. I have highlighted a few:

  • We get too comfortable with the current situation.
  • Fear of the Unknown
  • Normal routine is disrupted
  • The change wasn’t ‘MY’ idea to start with
  • Fear of failure
  • The purpose of change is unclear
  • Fear that you will lose something of value because of the change
  • The rewards of the change don’t match the effort required
  • Change requires additional commitment
  • You have set traditions and habits of the past


The most dangerous phrase in the language of change is ‘I’ve always done it this way’. Sadly, this seems to always be a default state for most of us especially, when faced with situations where we need to change. Well, in the same breath while we are busy struggling to maintain the status quo, let us be reminded that a comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there.


Now, we know that change really needs to happen, but we don’t know how to go about delivering it.

  • Where do you start?
  • Whom do you involve?
  • How do you see it through to the end?

With inferences from Lewin’s, Mckinsey and Kotter’s Change Models, I will attempt to break down how we (you and I) can successfully go through the process of change.

  • For change to happen, you must first create an internal sense of urgency around the need for change. This will help you spark the initial motivation to get things moving. Start by carrying out an honest discussion with yourself and examine any current or future opportunities that could be exploited. Once you have done that, indentify potential threats and develop scenarios of what could happen in the future. You can also request support from trusted friends and family who can help strengthen your resolve


  • Remember, managing the change process is not enough; you have to lead it, especially if there are other people involved in the transition like a spouse, children, parents, team or committee. Work to convince them that the change is necessary and look towards attaining emotional commitment from them.


  • To lead the change, you need a clear vision that people can grasp easily. A clear vision will help the people around you understand why you are asking them to do something. Determine what is really central to the change and review/practice your ‘vision speech’ as often as you can. Once they see for themselves what you are trying to do, then everything will begin to make sense, even to you.


  • What you do with your vision after you create it determines how successful your efforts will be. Communicate it frequently. Let your vision be embedded in everything that you do, apply it to all aspects of your life and walk the talk


  • Naturally, every vision is bound to face obstacles. These could be people around you. Learn to recognize these obstacles and take action quickly to win them over to your side or remove them from your scheme of things. You must accept the eventual possibility that not everyone will be open to your ideas and it is perfectly okay to let them go after several attempts of trying to win them over. Doing this will help the change process move forward.


  • Continue to justify your vision and need for change by thoroughly analysing your pros and cons. Avoid critics and negative thinkers who may hurt your progress. Celebrate any milestones achieved. Create quick wins. Nothing motivates more than success.


  • Real change runs deep! Many change attempts fail because victory is declared too early. Build on the change. After every win, analyse what went right and what needs improving. Re- set your goals and continue building on the momentum you have achieved. Do not tire; practice the act of continuous improvement – KAIZEN. (KAI – change, ZEN – for better)


  • Finally, make the change stick. Do this by making deliberate effort to show the values behind your vision in your day to day life. Talk about the progress you are making and share your success stories. Most importantly, build a culture around the change; this will help ensure that your efforts are not lost of forgotten.




In conclusion, focussing entirely on the change process including awareness and preparedness makes the transition easier. Dealing with change, and not avoiding it, will help you perform well in a new environment.


Serrainne Nyamori




The writer is the Founder and Lead consultant for Sustainability Africa, a Management Consulting and CSR Strategy firm based in Nairobi, Kenya. For more of our services please visit us at www.sustainability-africa.com or Email info@sustainability-africa.com


In the post  Mentoring Demystified, one of the key characteristics of Mentorship that we looked at is that it requires a design phase in order to determine its purpose.

Today, we look at how to design a mentorship session, holding a mentorship conversation and how to apply a mentorship model.

Happy Reading!

Overview of a full mentorship Session

A typical mentorship session can last as long as the two parties allow it to. However, a two (2) hr session is usually recommended. This structured 2 hr session would most likely have the following components: Introduction, Outcome, Conversations and Ending.

How would a typical 2 hr session look like?

  1. Setting the frames for Mentorship session:  Length of Mentorship session, Overview of how the session will operate, stating your style of Mentorship – what the Mentee can expect and what you expect. (Av. 5 – 10 min)
  1. Review (From the second session onward only): Tasking from previous Session:  Were action tasks completed.  If not, why not? What’s going on and what is needed? If completed, what were the learning’s, discoveries and awareness’s? (Av. 20 min)
  1. Outcome: Establishing purpose, outcome, agenda, Key Goals. What do you want? What shall we focus on during this session? How will you know that we have spent our time well? (Av. 40 min)
  1. Tasking: Tasks for an Action plan in preparation for the next session.  What co-created tasks have emerged during the session? Have we Co-created a Set of actions steps and an action plan? (Av. 40 min)
  2. Closure: Review, Achievement of the Goals for this session. What are you taking away from this session: What has been the best part of this session?  Wrap up any strong emotion that need to be addressed (Av. 5 -10 min)


Mentorship Conversations

This is usually, a seemingly difficult task especially for mentors and mentees meeting for the first time. I have come across several people who ask me: How do I start the conversation and manage to hold it to the end without panicking? How do I know which direction to steer the conversation for the best outcome? How do I structure an appropriate mentorship conversation How do I indentify the needs of my mentee? How do I……?????????

Well, to achieve all of the above, you need to understand that there are different kinds of Mentorship conversations.  I will list seven (7) of those commonly used

  1. Clarity – Exploration, Discovery
  2. Change – Developmental, Performance, Transformational
  3. Confrontational – Expose blind-spots and incongruencies
  4. Decision – Commitment
  5. Experiential – Resource, Role Planning, Patterns, Creating
  6. Mediation – For conflict resolution
  7. Planning – Strategy ,Action

Depending on the nature of the session and current state of the mentee, the mentor is advised to apply the most appropriate style in order to achieve the common goal

What is a Mentorship Model?

  • Is a set of guidelines that provide ongoing formative support
  • Includes a logistical plan& specific strategies for designing and understanding
  • Provides for knowledge-building and instructional planning

There are several types of mentorship models used by different people and different institutions. I will however attempt to highlight a more generic type that is applicable in most circumstances, one that I have used and continue to apply through this mentorship journey.

The G.R.O.W. Model

Goals – Mentor and Mentee discuss and agree on the outcome to be achieved

Reality – Mentor uses questions to help the mentee describe their current reality.  This helps establish the starting point for the Mentorship.

Options – Mentor and Mentee explore all possible options for moving from the current reality to the agreed outcomes.

Will – Mentor encourages Mentee to commit to action by asking what action they will take to achieve the goals and how they will deal with any obstacles

Knowing about the GROW Model is fantastic! I agree! But then how can we apply the Model in structuring a Mentorship session?

  • Aim – Set long term Aim and note it down. This will set the base for your progress
  • Objective – Agree on specific objectives for the session
  • Topic – Agree on topic for discussion


  • Assumptions – Avoid or check assumptions. Discard any irrelevant history
  • Examples – Offer specific examples of feedback
  • Assessment – Invite room for self Assessment. This can be an emotional endeavour


  • Range – Cover the full range of options
  • Suggestion – Invite suggestions from the Mentee. Offer suggestions carefully
  • Choices – Ensure choices are pointed out and made


  • WILL
  • Action – Commit to Action
  • Obstacles – Identify possible obstacles and how to overcome them. Agree to support
  • Milestones – Make steps specific and define timelines.


Now, with all the theory and guidelines that we have explored today, let’s get to the best part. PRACTICE!

You’re helping a junior colleague, Atieno, achieve her goals using the GROW Model. Atieno says that she would like a promotion to Team Leader within the next two years. This is a SMART Goal – it’s specific, measurable, attainable (as she already has one year of experience, and there are several Team leader positions in her department), relevant (both to Atieno’s overall career aspirations and the department’s mission), and time-bound.

You and Atieno now look at her current Reality. She’s in an entry-level position, but she already has some of the skills needed to be a Team leader. You brainstorm the additional skills that she’ll need in order to be successful in a Team leader role: She needs more experience of managing other people, and experience dealing with culturally diverse Teams. She also needs to continue performing well in her role, so that she’ll be considered for a promotion when one is available.

You then both review her Options. To get the experience she needs she could lead a small team on a small project. She could also spend time in the International recruitment team.

Finally, you establish the Will. As her mentor, you encourage her to let her lead a small team on a minor project. If she performs well, she can take on additional projects with more responsibility in the future. Atieno must also approach the international recruitment team, arrange to spend time in that department, and continue performing well in her current role. You agree to review her progress in three months time.


  • A great way to practice using the model is to address your own challenges and issues
  • The two most important skills for a Mentor are the ability to ask good questions and the ability to listen effectively.
  • You can use the model to help team members improve performance, and to help them plan for and reach their longer-term career objectives


Your comments and questions are highly encouraged.

Serrainne Nyamori

2015, UN-HABITAT Urban Youth Fund Mentor

2011, MILEAD (Moremi Initiative for Leadership in Africa) Fellow



The writer is the Founder and Lead consultant for Sustainability Africa, a Management Consulting and CSR Strategy firm based in Nairobi, Kenya. For more of our services please visit us at www.sustainability-africa.com or Email info@sustainability-africa.com



Any successful relationship requires that two parties (or more) understand their position, code of conduct and contribution to the relationship. I like to relate concepts to the family unit as it is the Standard Unit available for one to observe and learn the different elements of relationships.

A typical nuclear family has a Mother, Father and Children. The Father is viewed as the head of the house, the provider (in most cases) and the Protector. The mother on the other hand is the support system of the household, the nurturer and at most times the comforter. It would be a very unfortunate situation if the children were to assume the role of the parents as they neither have the capacity nor skills to perform those roles effectively. The reverse would equally be tragic! As is the same with the mentor and mentee relationship, they each have their own roles for the relationship to be successful.

The following observations are designed to help you make your decisions thoughtfully and appropriately, as you consider being a mentor, mentee or joining a mentorship program

What are the roles of a mentor?

A Mentor as we had mentioned in the previous article, is an adviser who thinks about mentees, counsels them and guides them. A mentor is therefore expected:

  • To have the ability to observe and reflect
  • To be a good listener and display empathy
  • To have intuitive wisdom from life experiences
  • To be self aware and have the ability to understand others
  • To share experiences and offer friendship
  • To be committed to learning and helping others learn
  • To build rapport and encourage mentees to speak
  • To challenge a mentee to know him/herself.
  • To ask questions to help the mentee define his/her goals
  • To think about a mentees career goals, and how to help him/her reach them
  • To provide constructive challenges and feedback
  • To help the mentee reshape their thinking
  • To step back from the details and manage the relationship and not the goals

Ultimately, a mentor is someone a mentee can trust!

One mentor may not meet all of the above needs. Some mentors will be experts at relationship building, others will be very good at networking, and others will take an interest in mentees personal life and well-being. Not every mentor can be all things to a mentee: sometimes, it’s good to seek advice from others, as well.

What can I expect from a mentor?

A good mentor will:

  • Meet with you (the mentee), regularly (at least three times a year)
  • Listen to you and to your ideas
  • Provide constructive and timely feedback on your ideas

What are my responsibilities as a Mentee?

It is up to you to make the most of what your mentor have to offer. The best person to define your future goals is you. From the moment you interact with your mentor, you should be planning strategically for what is next—thinking about and then choosing a path that suits your knowledge, skills, and personal goals.

Start early. Don’t wait until ‘things start to get thick’ to think about the future! Show your interest, listen, work hard, be a good team member, communicate, stay focused on your goals, be a responsible and ethical person. Remember, too, to evaluate your own progress and to reflect on your future, because you are a unique individual with a unique path ahead of you!

Last week I received overwhelming feedback and several questions on the topic. Here are a few of your questions. I have attempted to respond to them as constructively as I can.


  • Where can we meet?
  • It is advisable to meet in a secure open place e.g a coffee house or park. You can also meet in an office or board room; just ensure that the door is not locked or inaccessible. Noisy places like Disco’s, Bars, Concerts, Churches, Mosques, and Parties are equally to be avoided. Meeting in the Mentor or Mentee’s home is highly discouraged.
  • Can I have more than one Mentor?
  • Yes you can. As I had mentioned earlier, one mentor cannot meet all your needs. Try not to have too many mentors as well. Once you have defined your goals, having two or three mentors at any given time, impacting different areas of your life is acceptable.
  • How often can I meet my Mentor or Mentee?
  • As often as you can. This usually is a personal decision between the Mentor and Mentee. An accepted minimum though is at least three (3) times a year
  • Can I have a Mentor or Mentee of the opposite sex?
  • Yes you can. Provided you do not cross personal or sexual boundaries
  • Can I mentor someone I am having a personal relationship with e.g spouse?
  • It is advised against because there is a natural progression to be bias (positively or negatively) with someone you are intimately involved with. What you can do alternatively is be an inspirational figure or role model.
  • What do I do if my Mentor or Mentee discloses a personal issue that is dangerous or illegal e.g Murder, Rape or drug trafficking.
  • Encourage them to follow due legal processes or seek professional help. The Mentor-Mentee relationship is confidential and this should be respected.
  • Am I allowed to terminate the mentor/Mentee relationship at will?
  • However, make sure that you have spoken to the Mentor/Mentee as to why you have chosen to terminate the relationship.
  • What reasons would someone have to terminate the Mentor/Mentee relationship?
  • These could be personal ,health, legal, geographical and compatibility reasons, time constraints, inability to commit to the relationship, breach of trust, crossing personal and sexual boundaries etc
  • My mentor/Mentee has a different personality from mine; do you think this relationship will be successful?           
  • The key here is for the Mentor and Mentor to each be self aware and learn how to accommodate other personalities. In the event that both parties are undeniably incompatible then they are both free to seek other partners.


Serrainne Nyamori

2015, UN-HABITAT Urban Youth Fund Mentor

2011, MILEAD (Moremi Initiative for Leadership in Africa) Fellow



The writer is the Founder and Lead consultant for Sustainability Africa, a Management Consulting and CSR Strategy firm based in Nairobi, Kenya. For more of our services please visit us at www.sustainability-africa.com or Email info@sustainability-africa.com



The word Mentoring has over time become our 21st Century Buzzword.

I have come across many people who say:

Statement A – ‘I have been invited to High school X to mentor their students this afternoon’

Statement B – ‘Last week we mentored 4000 Youth at the ABC Youth Conference’

Statement C – ‘I mentor people through my Music, My Art, My Book’

Statement D- ‘Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Wangari Maathai, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Mboya, Mahatma Gandhi are my mentors’

So, what is it about these statements that send me in a wave of grief? None of these situations describe what mentoring is.

If that is not mentoring, then what is? Excellent question! Let me attempt to explain from my professional lenses

What Mentoring is Not

Mentoring is NOT Coaching

  • Coaching is task or skill oriented. This is where one is assisted to do better what they already do well or develop a skill they don’t yet posses e.g Football coaching

Mentoring is NOT Psychotherapy Counselling

  • Psychotherapy counselling involves a trained practitioner who helps people develop self understanding and make changes in their lives

Mentoring is NOT Role Modelling

  • A role model is someone who people look up to and is revered. It may be a close relative e.g a parent or someone who has distinguished themselves in a way that people want to emulate them e.g Mother Theresa

Mentoring is NOT Motivational Speaking

  • A motivational speaker is someone who speaks publicly with the intention to inspire an audience. This has overtime turned into a profitable profession e.g Zig Ziglar & Farrah Gray

Mentoring is NOT Training

  • Training is Instructional. It involves teaching with specific goals of improving ones capabilities, skills, capacity, productivity and performance

Mentoring is NOT Parenting

  • Parenting is the process of supporting the physical, emotional, social, financial, intellectual well being and development of a child from infancy to adulthood

NOTE: In most occasions the act of mentoring may involve certain aspects of one or more of these interventions.

What Mentoring IS

There are many broad definitions however in summary, Mentoring is a learning and development partnership between someone with vast experience and someone who is less experienced and is willing to learn. It is helping one build their capacity and encouraging them to develop self reliance or career goals.

Who is Involved in Mentoring?

  1. Mentor

Someone who teaches, gives help and advice to a less experienced person. A mentor can be younger or but have a certain area of expertise. Also known as a ‘Wise Adviser’

  1. Mentee

Simply put, a mentee is a person who is being guided by a mentor. (Some cultures also refer to them as Mentorees)

What is involved in Mentoring?

  • Both parties (Mentor and Mentee) should be willing to engage in the relationship.Mentoring is relationship oriented.
  • The aim is to have the mentee improve their performance and be more productive
  • It focuses on work/life balance, self-confidence, self-perception, and how the personal influences the professional.
  • It requires well-developed inter-personal skills i.e. Listening skills, speaking skills, communications skills especially on the part of a mentor
  • It focuses on learning and development to enhance skills and competencies .Mentoring is development driven.
  • It encourages the individual to push beyond their current limit, but provide the necessary support if the person needs it.
  • It provides support without removing responsibility
  • It seeks to provide a safe environment where the mentee shares whatever issues affect his or her professional and personal success.
  • It requires time in which both partners can learn about one another and build a climate of trust. Mentoring is always long term.
  • Its purpose is to develop the individual not only for the current job/position in life, but also for the future. (This distinction differentiates the role of the immediate manager and that of the mentor. Meaning, it is usually not advised for a manager/supervisor to mentor someone working directly under them)
  • Mentoring requires a design phase in order to determine the purpose for mentoring, the areas focus, and the specific components that will guide the relationship, especially the matching process.
  • Mentoring tends to be more informal and meetings can take place as and when the mentee needs some advice, guidance and support
  • In mentoring the learner sets their own goals .The mentor offers support towards achieving them


Why should you get a mentor?

There are several reasons as to why one should get a mentor. I will however highlight just a few that seem critical

  • You make better decisions
  • The decisions you make with a mentor will be better than those you make alone .Two heads are definitely better than one.
  • Your Learning curve is shortened
  • You stand to benefit from your mentor’s gained experience, successes and failures. With a mentor you don’t have to face as much trial and error.
  • Your Network expands
  • Your mentor is helping you because he/she believe in you. You therefore get to benefit from their contacts, referrals and relationships .These connections are priceless and can help grow your career in ways you couldn’t do yourself
  • Its FREE and comes with the additional benefit of a lifelong friend

Back to the Statements in Paragraph one

From what we have learnt so far:

  • Age is not necessarily a limiting factor in the mentor /mentee relationship
  • Mentoring is Not a onetime Event
  • Mentoring is a relationship which requires commitment
  • The Mentor and Mentee must both be known to each other. So Albert Einstein or Oprah Winfrey may be considered Role Models or Inspirational figures but NOT Mentors


In Swahili we say ‘Tenda Wema nenda zako’. Meaning, Do good and Go your way. So is the same with Mentoring. It is rather imprudent for an individual to identify themselves as a mentor and this is because like parenting you cannot entirely claim the success of your children reason being the role you play is one of offering support and not making the decisions that eventually affect their lives. Let the mentee call you out. Only they can qualify your impact in their lives.

Your comments and questions are highly encouraged.

Serrainne Nyamori

2015, UN-HABITAT Urban Youth Fund Mentor

2011, MILEAD (Moremi Initiative for Leadership in Africa) Fellow



The writer is the Founder and Lead consultant for Sustainability Africa, a Management Consulting and CSR Strategy firm based in Nairobi, Kenya. For more of our services please visit us at www.sustainability-africa.com or Email info@sustainability-africa.com