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Remarks from Leanne Cannon, Public Affairs Officer, at the Launching Ceremony of the Alumni Impact E-Mentoring
July 23, 2020

Leanne Cannon

Good afternoon and welcome everyone. We are excited to have you all here today.
Tomorrow is the Nelson Mandela International Day and we chose to celebrate this day by creating this mentoring opportunity. The idea behind Mandela Day is to take action to make a difference in your community. Mentors make a huge difference to those they are helping, and we hope that those receiving mentorship will use what they learn to make a difference for people around them, too.

This year, we are promoting virtual service opportunities because the coronavirus pandemic is a very present danger. We have to all do our part to slow the transmission of the virus by following guidelines like wearing masks, keeping 6 feet of distance from others, and avoiding large gatherings. COVID-19 also creates many challenges, especially for the economy and the job market, and mentoring is very beneficial for overcoming challenges. So, this program promotes resilience to the impact of COVID-19.

To celebrate Nelson Mandela Day tomorrow, we are offering this mentoring opportunity to empower you to make a difference in your communities while still respecting guidelines to prevent transmission of COVID-19.

Today we have both mentors and mentees in our audience. Mentoring as we know it today is loosely modeled on the historical craftsman/apprentice relationship, where young people learned a trade by shadowing the master artisan. In the mid-70s, corporate America redefined mentoring as a career development strategy.

The famous American actor Denzel Washington once said, “Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living – if you do it well I am sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way, a mentor.”

The idea of mentoring is based on a learning model where a young person with less experience learns from someone who has more expertise. You may have heard of the famous Black American poet, author, and activist Maya Angelou. She was a mentor to Oprah Winfrey, the famous Black American talk show host, actress, and philanthropist. And Steve Jobs, the former CEO and co-founder of Apple was a mentor to Mark Zuckerberg, the man who co-founded Facebook.

Mentors have experience you can learn from so you don’t have to waste time learning everything yourself when someone else has already figured it out! A mentor has been where you are and learned to navigate tricky situations successfully. They can now use this as a basis for helping others to skip the devastating effects of not knowing. Mentees who learn from their mentors work smarter, not harder.

I believe all our mentees are members of the YALI Network. So you should be familiar with the YALI Serves campaign. This mentorship program is part of that campaign. I love the YALI Network and I hope you tell all your friends about the benefits it offers and invite them to join.

I want to say a tremendous thank you to those who volunteered to be mentors. Our mentors are alumni of Embassy exchange programs, and we are glad to see that they are eager to share with others from the opportunities they have had!

Mentors, a famous American movie director once said, “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” Nurture the personal growth of your mentees, but understand that you are not the focus, each mentee is different, and your experience may not be exactly what they need to copy.

While our program is only a short time, you can continue these relationships as long as they are helpful to you. We hope to enable Cameroonian youth to get guidance and inspiration, be empowered, and get connected to opportunities.

We hope to encourage more skilled professionals to step up, reach out to youth who have big dreams and talent, and need guidance to make these dreams come true. We hope our mentors make mentoring a part of your lives, beyond this program.

For our mentees, you are 150 people selected from over 3,500 applicants, and there would have been even more applicants if we had not closed the application period early. We hope to announce more such opportunities in the future since we saw such high interest.

Finally, just as you are entering in a period of learning—learning how to be a mentor to new mentees or learning from a mentor—we are also learning. This is the first time we are doing a mentoring program, so we are figuring out how to make it successful for you. Please be patient, give us open and detailed feedback, and please know that every individual has a different mentor or mentee style. It is up to you to be proactive and make the most of this opportunity.

I wish you the best.

Note: As prepared for delivery. Remarks were delivered in a mix of French and English.