Jason Lee ’23: I am working on my own venture, creating a mentorship platform that could increase accessibility of support for underprivileged students. As part of testing the hypothesis that I had, I wanted to run my own mentorship program to see if certain assumptions that we made are valid.
I got in touch with Faith to ask if she had any target population in mind that we could have on our platform as mentees. Because of her personal experience growing up and involvement in a number of mentorship programs back home in Cameroon, she suggested that we connect with current and recently graduated undergraduate students in Cameroon.
Faith Mpara ’23: In Cameroon, it’s super hard to get jobs after graduation. It’s commonplace for people to take around for five to seven years before they get their first job after graduation. and it’s really hard to know what to do or who to talk to. I started to actually pay for some services to get someone tell me how to do graduate school applications, but in a place where you don’t get a job immediately after school and where you don’t necessarily have excess capital supply from parents, it’s hard.
So I thought about how valuable it would be to pair the mentors with these students—that way they don’t have to pay the kind of amount that I saved for years to be able to pay consultants to tell me about graduate school. And just being able to see young people from other areas have access to some resources that could help them. To me it was about bridging the gap that I experienced and which lots of those undergraduates were experiencing.
Cameroon has had a crisis—what is now called the Anglophone crisis—since 2016. A good number of students have been out of school because the crisis tend to target educational institutions, students, educators. It has slowed down economic activities significantly. So to me, it was about being able to help them to see beyond the world of challenges and fights and crisis and limited resources that they have, to just open them up to the world.
To launch the program, we started with a workshop that was largely facilitated by communities that provide similar services in Cameroon. Some of the organizations that we engaged were Women Techmakers Buea, Open Dreams, and Royalty World.
Jason Lee: We created a career mentorship program where a student is paired with three different mentors, each playing a unique role—a functional expert, a supportive advisor, and a challenger who provides alternative perspectives. Our intention was to empower these students in achieving their career goals by equipping them with guidance through three sets of lenses. We help them to review their CVs, cover letters, guide them to tell their personal stories better, and sharing with them some industry insights.
Our perspective is that mentorship should go beyond just giving advice. It should also be this psychological support that someone who is more experienced could give to someone who’s less experienced. So part of the mentor’s job in this program was to also check in with the mentees and talk about their own personal challenges.
For some of them, even paying for the internet is an issue. So we did fundraising to support them in paying for their mobile subscription for the four weeks of mentorship.
We did communication through emails. We had a page on Notion where students could access and find out more about the program itself or the resources that they need to complete the program. Students could access, for example, the background of their mentors, some templates for CV writing, cover letter. Other than that, it was more free-flow. The mentors could choose to communicate through WhatsApp or through Zoom, and it’s up to the mentors and mentees to arrange. Internet access is not super stable, so we did Zoom most of the time without video because that would just not work for the students.
Faith Mpara: Involving our classmates in the MAM program has been the most fulfilling part of this program to me. Each mentor had to work with about three mentees every week, and those are 30 minutes slots where you sit on a call with them. But outside that, you’re researching resources, looking at the questions that they ask, evaluating their situation, and seeing what to help them. I was inspired by their commitment, by the work that they do. Some of them continued to work with the mentees even after the program officially ended.
Jason Lee: It is amazing how these mentors, even though this is just volunteering work and they don’t get any incentives for it, they really put in their heart and soul into this project. I’m really grateful for these classmates. I just heard from a mentor recently that his mentee got a job in Germany—that was one of the goals that they set out to achieve. The mentee achieved that three months after the program ended, and he still updated his mentor.