Mentors: the wind beneath our flying wings

Mentors: the wind beneath our flying wings

By Gloria Seruwagi |

MCH Consortium-EbbWe’ve just concluded hosting a three-day inception meeting for the Maternal Health Academic Consortium in Entebbe, Uganda. A meeting of minds! It has been an absolute delight for us at Makerere University School of Public Health (MakSPH) to co-host this event with our partners at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health led by Prof. Ana Langer.

Delegates – all came in mentor/mentee pairs – from over 20 countries, working in over 43 countries from around the world and united by the shared goal of improving maternal health. Also aiming to create an enabling environment to equip the next generation of researchers and leaders in the field of maternal health. Mostly through partnership and mentorship. A grand challenge, a good one… but not an easy or instant one if the grim maternal health statistics are anything to go by. Enter mentors – mostly very senior, busy people yet kind and magnanimous of heart, willing to invest in a younger or junior person.

The consortium has ended on a high note, with great inspiration and renewed commitment. We all are optimistic and excited about what the future holds – for junior and senior researchers/professionals but most importantly for mothers whose lives we seek to impact. WHO gave us the famous health system building blocks, and then went ahead to declare data and leadership/governance as “high-leverage intervention points” among the six building blocks. The Consortium’s intention and approach is strongly aligned – building future leaders through partnership and mentorship while also enabling them to situate, synthesize, generate, engage and disseminate health information to improve maternal health.  We are creating regional hubs across the globe; natural and passionate leaders already seen – for example East Africa already has Aga Khan University’s Prof. Marleen Temmerman and our (MakSPH’s) own Prof. Peter Waiswa. The learning and working continues – and most of it will transcend individual relationships as mentorship becomes more purposeful for impact. The importance of reflection and information sharing across individuals, teams, institutions and continents cannot be overemphasized. We will begin to see more appreciation (for mentors) and affirmation (for mentees) as they relate and do things even better than before.

This blog is a tribute to all mentors – thank you and please keep on: we honour you, and need you even more. I’ll pick out two of my own mentors: one is a brave man from whom I am learning a lot. He’s mentoring and leading a multidisciplinary team consisting of mostly young clinicians, statisticians, media experts, social entreprenuers and social scientists like myself to provide a diverse and holistic understanding of MNCH issues to guide more effective intervention. Oh, and he never stops talking about his own mentors – is there such a thing as “grand mentors” for mentees? Back to this mentor – he is a man with moral authority to mentor others as he’s been and continues being mentored. He is one of those rare mentors daring to push boundaries and support protégés to be all they can be! Another of my mentors is one with whom we bonded over concern for road safety in LMIC – like the first mentor we come from totally different backgrounds but this mentor has been a life coach and more  – guiding, nudging, redirecting, challenging and supporting with utmost grace and humility for well over a decade! Reminds me of one the Consortium’s other takeaway points – not being restricted and oftentimes having different mentors for our multifaceted research and professional lives.

And while some mentees are still grappling with the fact that they are destined to become even greater than their beloved and respected mentors, I’d like to pause a closing question – shouldn’t this be the norm and not the exception? That mentees should extend their mentors’ legacy while also making their own contribution… and then pass on this gift to the next generation in a bigger and perhaps even better way?  A true mentor would be proud. And the gift goes on. #

*Dr Gloria Seruwagi is a post-doctoral fellow with the Makerere University Centre of Excellence for Maternal Newborn and Child Health.

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