Giving back to our communities

The same way we find and feel that mentors are important to us just like Munira discussed in her August blog, I believe that we should do the same for others. Like I also mentioned in my August blog about the importance of finding a support system that will motivate and support us, I also said that after we have found that support system, we should go out there and be someone else’s support system.

I didn’t realize how much of a difference I could make to young kids’ lives until this year when I was more involved in community work. All the previous years I always dedicated some of my time to volunteer work in terms of mentorship programs or open days for high school learners but none of these ever required me to interact with these learners after that one event. This year I made a conscious decision to participate in the efforts of Nka’Thuto EduPropeller, and was actively involved in some of their expos.

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Nka’Thuto is a non-profit organization that was established in 2016 with the objective to spark interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers amongst learners. There is a 7 tier process that is followed that the learners are involved in, the first process is the Activation stage. During this stage, the organization goes to various schools and encourage learners to find problems in their communities. The second process in the programme is the workshop stage. This stage teaches the learners about how to go about conducting research and finding solutions to the problems they have identified in their community. The third is the consultation stage, the learners are giving an opportunity to consult with mentors about their ideas. Thereafter, the internal school level Innovation Expo happens where learners compete amongst their peers. A computer skills workshop is also offered to the learners. The winners of the school level expo then compete in the final innovation expo with other learners from different schools and provinces. The winners from the final expo then proceed to the Entrepreneurship expo pitching competition.

I was involved in the internal school level and the final innovation expos. The feeling that comes with being part of such initiatives is beyond satisfying. Getting the opportunity to interact with the learners, not only about their science projects but also their future plans are just remarkable. Leading up to the final expo round, they invited me to a mentorship session to help the learners prepare for the finals. I was happy to see a whole lot of familiar faces from the previous expos. I was especially ecstatic to have two learners who insisted on having a consultation with me since I was their judge during their school level expo. They were happy to show me that they have implemented my suggestions and wanted to know if there was more I could suggest from what they have done. On the day of the final expo, I made it a point of mine to go have a look at their board and I was truly impressed with the effort they made in improving from their last expo. This was clearly an indication that they were there to learn.

What I am trying to say is that I really believe it is important that us as postgraduate students should be the mentors that we would like for ourselves. The same way we would like mentors to guide and support us, we should also pass this on to others younger than us. Not everyone has the opportunity to meet people who are in the same career path they would like to follow. Take me for example, I did not know that one can have a career in Physics when I was still in High School. So now I make it a point to let the younger learners know that it is possible to have a career apart from the typical careers that they are aware of. During the expo sessions I judged in, I asked most of them what they wanted to do when they finished school. It was interesting because I got a variety of answers ranging from software engineering to being doctors. What gave them hope was that I would even tell them that I knew a couple of people who were in the same career field as their interests.

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We have a whole generation of young people who are smart that just need mentors to guide them in the right direction. We are part of this generation that needs mentors but let us not forget those younger than us.  We are the mentors that they need, want and should have. We should give more of our time to encourage, motivate and mentor these learners. Let us be their role models, someone for them to look up to and aspire to become.

I am not saying that everyone should start a foundation or organization that helps learners from our communities, from what I have heard, it’s a lot of work. What I am however saying is that if you do come across a foundation or organization that is looking for volunteers, volunteer your time. There is more to giving back to the community than volunteering at a soup kitchen or visiting old age homes and orphanages. Sometimes sharing our knowledge and skills can go a long way in making a difference in someone else’s life. The learners are really looking for someone to inspire and give them hope, be that light at the end of their High School tunnel.

Women’s role in decision-making: Lessons from Captain Marvel

Superhero movies attract increasing attention from viewers of all ages. Recent ones such as Black Panther triggered discussions on current societal challenges. The most recent example is that of Captain Marvel – the first movie of the Avengers series with a female protagonist. Although the female heroes are not entirely missing from other movies of the series, here, the movie’s focal character is Captain Marvel and how she discovers her power, her role in the war, and her new-found responsibility to save the world (as with any other superhero of course).

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But how are we doing in the real world when it comes to real-life Captain Marvels?

In the movie, Captain Marvel is abducted after an accident. Her unique powers were hidden from her and trapped to be used only for the benefit of her captors. The real-life Captain Marvels seem to be underutilized globally, firstly within the labour force, but even more so, as leaders in strategic positions; their true potential is locked too. A study published in 2018 by Catalyst looked at women in the C-suite (executive positions CEO, CFO, COO, etc.) in Standard and Poor 500 companies. It paints a dismal picture for Captain Marvels, or in other words female game-changers, globally. Women in these companies are just 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs; not only an extremely low share but a decrease from 2017. Women hold only 10% of top management positions in 1500 S&P companies, and 19% of overall board seats. The potential of women is locked behind historical norms, perceptions and background.

Unleashing the power of the real-life Captain Marvels can provide new sources of powers and strengths in the global fight against the world’s problems. Unique and innovative solutions in these problems require multiple perspectives in decision making which can be sourced, among others, from gender inclusivity. An example of this is provided by Prof Catherine Mitchell from the University of Exeter, who discusses how low gender diversity in the past has made the energy industry less open to new ideas, and maybe even more reluctant move to lower-carbon energy systems, and even slowing down the energy transition. Captain Marvel is rebuked by her trainers and fellow soldiers for allowing her emotions to guide her decision-making process. She only realises her full potential when she understands that her approach to leadership is not wrong, it is just different.

Does this mean that the real-life Captain Marvels have to fight against everyone they meet? In the last battle, Yon-Rogg tempts her to fight against him but she refuses. Captain Marvel argues that she has nothing to prove to anyone. That is a message to real-life Captain Marvels, that even though the current leaders will prompt you to fight and lose your energy, you should be assertive about contribution and loyalty to the common goal of moving towards a better future – it is not about who is going to achieve it.

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Captain Marvel teaches us the value of a good team – a key concept in leadership. Are Captain Marvels completely independent? What assistance do real Captain Marvels have or what are the potential catalysts for change? One of the greatest challenges of the society is how to reach, inspire and prepare young, future Captain Marvels.

This can be done by promoting strong role models through mentoring and by speaking to something very important for young female professionals – their pride. We do not want to be chosen because we are women ONLY, but we do not want to be rejected because of that either. Initiatives, such as Future Africa, and the Africa Science Leadership Programme, that promote a polyphony in decision-making, nurtures a variety of approaches in leadership, and that enable gender inclusivity are necessary for future change.

And as Captain Marvel promises at the end of the movie, women in decision-making, have the potential to make a difference towards a sustainable future for the planet.