"Young women cannot be what they cannot see. Our mission with Zahara's Dream mentorship action is to ensure that young women find their #Sisterskeepers, Role Models and support system to thrive personally and professionally." -- Verlaine-Diane Soobroydoo, Founder Zahara's Dream
In their own words: Zahara's Dream Mentorship Experience by Bojan (USA) and Selam (Ethiopia)
Participants in the Zahara’s Dream mentorship program aren’t told with whom they will be matched. Nor do they quite know what to anticipate from the process or whether the exchange will last beyond the first few introductory meetings.
Yet a year into the mentorship program, we are both grateful for the space that has been created for us to connect. While at first sight we might make an unlikely match, an Addis-Ababa-based young feminist and public health student (mentee) and a Serbian-born and New York based researcher and policy influencer (mentor), our experience speaks to the importance of intentional, and international, spaces for young professionals – and in particular women – to connect.
The purpose of the Zahara’s Dream mentorship program has been clear from the start. The team wanted to foster an enabling environment in which young women can tap into professional development spaces that they might not otherwise have an opportunity to access, to benefit from support of their peer mentors, and to be encouraged to pursue their dreams.
Early on, both of us have realized that our mentor-mentee relationship is unique from others. It goes beyond opening doors, facilitating introductions, sharing knowledge and ideas, and supporting mentee’s career aspirations. At the heart of it is an ongoing engagement of two equals, with different lived experiences, who are keen to learn from the other.
We have come to share our frustrations with the slow pace of political progress in our respective countries, and more so on the international level. We have compared notes about COVID-19’s effects on the societies we live in, as well as our own lives. We have wondered how to become instigators of social and political change within our spheres of influence, and what role international actors play in this process.
At a time when opportunities for connection are seemingly limitless – as long as you have a stable internet connection – in practice they are often limited. COVID-19 pandemic has only further exacerbated some of the traditional restrictions, making ‘networking’ difficult based on your race, gender, economic background, academic pedigree, pre-existing connections, etc. The spaces to share guidance, build connections, offer opportunities, build skills and insights were also curtailed by travel restrictions and individuals’ natural propensity to seek comfort in familiarity during times of stress and uncertainty.
The world is not equal, opportunities are still limited for young people – especially those from the global south – to access and shape research agendas and decisions on multilateral level. By creating space for us, and so many others, to take part in mentee-mentor relationship, Zahara’s Dream is working to change that. We hope many more will sign up to take part in the mentoring program, and come willing to teach and be taught.
Bojan and Selam, Mentor-Mentee, 2020-2021 Cohort