On Mentoring | Hema Vallabh

In October of last year, I made a transformative decision to start a new life as an entrepreneur and small business owner. And I can honestly say that it all went back to mentoring.

After participating in the 2013 Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership, during which I met with remarkable women leaders and heard their perspectives on their work lives, personal lives, and career paths, I came away with one thought: to ‘just go out and do it.’

What would ‘it’ be? Immediately upon my return to South Africa, I began working with other women in the Vital Voices network to plan a Mentoring Walk. Mentors can play so many roles in your life. Some are more informal and often resemble personal friendships; some are more formal and career-oriented. But I am a firm believer in looking at your life holistically and not limiting yourself to having only one mentor, but rather different mentors that guide you in every part of your life.

After a successful  debut Mentoring Walk in South Africa last year, we planned another one this year to celebrate International Women’s Day, and would like to go even further by promoting walks and mentoring events throughout the year, in different regions of the country. We would also like to begin holding Mentoring Breakfasts and other mentoring platforms, to provide more opportunities for young women in South Africa to grow professionally and personally.

Our most recent Mentoring Walk in Joburg, South Africa celebrating International Women’s Day. 

I also decided to take a hard look at my career at the time-I was doing well in my job and and growing successfully within the company, but when I sat down and really thought about what I loved to do, I realized that I had found my true passion in the work I was doing with South African Women in Engineering (SAWomEng), mentoring and coaching the next generation of young women engineers.  So,  I decided to take the plunge, resign, and start a consulting firm dedicated to coaching and leadership development – The Passionate Professional. I also decided to dedicate more time to my role with SAWomEng, and am working with them to expand the organization’s reach into Africa-first to Kenya and hopefully Ghana and Nigeria to follow thereafter.

Throughout my transition, I relied heavily on a number of mentors. For example, a male mentor from my previous job helped me confront the details and logistics of creating a new company. Another mentor, a wonderful woman with lots of life experience, helped me figure out the best way to run workshops and not forget about my own self-care amidst all of the changes in my life! Formal women’s mentoring programs, like the Mentoring Walks, FORTUNE program and Global Ambassadors Program are extremely important because they give women valuable experience that they probably would not get otherwise.

Coming out of our Mentoring Walk on International Women’s Day, there is one piece of advice I would give to young women growing up in South Africa: do not be afraid to dream, and encourage others to dream.