A strong pillar of the Youth4Policy fellowship programme is the role that experienced policy experts play as mentors to the fellows. Briefly, the mentors provide professional policy research and analysis guidance, and act as role models to the fellows throughout their fellowship period. During this time, fellows get immersed in research processes to find answers to their research problems and provide alternative policy recommendations to solve such problems. This flexible and communication-based mentorship arrangement entails working along the goals and expectations agreed upon by the mentors and fellows.
Youth4Policys mentorship model is a powerful approach that enables meaningful discussions to enrich the fellows’ research projects. The rationale for this innovative approach is underpinned by the fact that attaching junior researchers with senior fellows, often with more grounded theoretical background and solid experience provide additional momentum to enhance the quality of research outputs.
Mentorship in Youth4Policy Initiative comes as a fulfilment of the recommendation made by members of the Young Leaders Think Tank for Policy Alternatives (which was re-launched into the current Youth4Policy platform). In this regard, the Think Tank identified the need for a stronger individual capacity development, that included training in policy research analysis as well as mentorship.
As Yusuf Kiranda, Co-director at CDA and the Youth4Policy program director, puts it, ‘’a mentor is equivalent to an academic advisor in a university’. Indeed, my own experience with an academic advisor at the London School of Economics, (where mentorship is held with extreme value), enabled me through my academic journey, without which the journey would have been a difficult one.
Knowing the roles and expectations of mentors is crucial in any mentorship relationship. Thus, on the 26th day of April 2018 Youth4Policy mentors met with a team from KAS and CDA over dinner at the Nawab Asian Bistro. At the dinner, the participants shared ideas on this exciting initiative, as well as the roles and expectations of mentors.
Mathias Kamp, KAS Country Director opened the discussion with a rich background information on KAS and its partners, who include CDA. He emphasised Youth4policy as one of the most prestigious youth programs that KAS has had in collaboration with CDA. The passion he has for the program was indeed evident in his speech. He also commended the mentor-focal person-fellow arrangement and expressed his optimism about the ability of this arrangement to deliver impressive results for the program. Mathias emphasised the need for all the stakeholders to give feedback for purposes of improvements in the Youth4Policy Program. Indeed, this being a new programme, with the current 12 fellows being the first cohort, there is a lot to be learnt for better future programme outcomes.
Yusuf delved more into explaining the Youth4Policy programme, as a policy development lab, that empowers youth to influence policy outcomes with evidence-based research and persuasive arguments. His clarification of the selection criteria for fellows as a rigorous and highly competitive process made profound sense in terms of getting the ‘cream’ (12 fellows out of 400 applicants) and the need to have a small manageable group per cohort. In addition to the selection of fellows, Yusuf commented on the diversity in knowledge, experiences, aspirations and professional back grounds that the 12 fellows and their mentors possess
Because Youth4policy employs a unique approach to policy development in Uganda, it was inevitable to explain to the mentors and the rest of the participants the ‘Problem Driven Policy Analysis Framework (PDPAF). As noted by Mr. Kiranda, ‘’This framework allows the fellows to do an analysis for policy rather than analysis of policy’’. However, it was also added that policies will be evaluated to see why /what worked and did not, then the fellows will use their scientific research to make informed and evidence-based inputs to influence respective policies.
Mentors indeed have an immense role to play in the fellows’ journey. As the discussion opened to the rest of the participants, mentors deliberated on their roles and expectations for the Youth4Policcy Programme. Through document sharing and physical meetings between the mentors and the fellows/mentees, the former will guide the latter on defining feasible research questions. Although mentorship as a phrase defines roles and responsibilities of mentors and mentees, participants at the dinner agreed that there is no limit to what a mentor can do. This also implies that there is flexibility and, successful mentorship in the Youth4Policy programme will be highly dependent on how fellows relate with their mentors and what goals they agree to achieve together, when and through what method.
Mentors made an inquiry on whether the policy research is intended to be done as an academic research. Max Walter, the CDA Executive Director clarified that 6 months on the program are too short a time for the fellows to do a rigorous academic inquiry. He further explained that because of this factor, the choice of the research topic is key. In this case, mentors together with focal persons will need to guide fellows to select research questions/topics for which data exists.
Like any other action-driven meeting, some of the actionable points included the need to organise a meeting for mentors, focal persons, fellows, CDA and KAS staff so that they have a more participatory session where expectations, fears and general ideas can be shared, and a way forward discussed.
However, fears of mentors’ selection bias were raised during the discussion. Yasin Olum, one of the mentors suggested profession- crossing, on justification that fellows will get a unique perspective, different from what they have been used to, in their fields of interest. Under this proposed arrangement, a fellow working on youth engagement in agriculture, for example can be mentored by someone from the field of media/journalism rather than an agricultural or youth expert. Much as this suggestion was welcomed as a great idea, especially for future considerations, there was consensus that the current approach of identifying mentors with rich knowledge and expertise in the fellows’ sectors of research is a powerful tool for effective mentorship.
The dinner closed with a clarification that the mentorship service is gratis and a way of giving back society. The team from KAS and CDA expressed their gratitude to the mentors for accepting to be part of the Youth4Policy initiative.