LMG Mentoring Network: March Mentor of the Month

Sarah Lindsay

Senior Technical Officer

Each month, the LMG East African Women's Mentoring Network will feature an interview with a different mentor. You will be able to hear the mentor's powerful story, as well as her advice for succeding in the workplace. March's Mentor of the Month is Caren Wakoli. Caren is the founder and executive director of Emerging Leaders Foundation (ELF), an organization nurturing Africa’s emerging leadership through organizational development, leadership development, youth civic engagement, good governance advocacy and sustainable community service events. Caren also sits on the Nairobi County Youth Oversight Board. 

Why did you want to be a mentor?
I love so much to mentor and it gives me deep satisfaction to see a life transformed just because I spared a few minutes to guide, share, chat and inspire someone. In essence, mentorship is really my life. I eat mentorship, sleep mentorship, sing mentorship…and do everything mentorship. As a matter of fact, I am who I am today because I was mentored, and I am still being mentored. Mentors make a whole difference in one’s life and I wanted to be a part of a team doing mentorship and contributing to raising strong and confident women who are impacting their communities and spheres of influence.

What has been your greatest professional accomplishment?
My greatest professional accomplishment has been, setting up an institution (Emerging Leaders Foundation) that does leadership training and mentorship for young women and young men. This is because I have seen huge transformation of those who have been through our programs – some have started their own organizations to address challenges in society, some have taken leadership roles in organizations and communities, some are influencing policy at national and international levels, others are reaching out to peers and doing peer mentorship, while others simply had their lives changed. So far we have been able to reach over 5000 young people, especially young women, and this year, we launched the mentorship program for men, called Men of Honour. We hope to grow and be able to impact many more lives not just in Kenya, but in Africa at large. This, is my life’s purpose – to empower young people to live purposeful lives and be the best they can be. I will pursue it to the end.

What sacrifices did you have to make in your journey to success? 
Thank you very much for this question – it is very important in attaining whatever dreams one has in life. Throughout my leadership journey, I have discovered that making sacrifices is not an option. It’s involuntary. It must happen if one is to make any dent on planet earth. I have made many sacrifices to be where I am and I now contend that it’s a lifelong process. Sacrifices will have to made at every stage in life. One of the biggest sacrifices I have to make was letting go of comfort and security to pursue my life’s purpose. I quit my job in media to establish Emerging Leaders Foundation to reach out to young people in leadership. It hasn’t been easy but worth it. To paraphrase the words of Winstone Churchill, it has been tears, sweat and blood but you know what, it has been worth every effort. I have no regrets whatsoever.

What is your advice to young women entering the workforce in Africa?
I wish to share these ten things I find key in living a fulfilling life;

  1. Know yourself; self awareness is very important in life. It is the first step to getting to discover who you are, finding your purpose in life and pursuing it. Discover what makes you tick and what ticks you off. Define your values and set your boundaries.
  2. Do what you love; we spent a lot of our lives at the workplace and it can be so enriching to do what you love and enjoy. Do not stick somewhere simply because of a paycheck at the end of every month. This may cripple your life and dreams.
  3. Dream with your eyes open; Eleanor Roosevelt said that, "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." You must not only dream but also see the actualization of those dreams in your eyes. Visualize them and revel in them. And then take action, one step at a time.
  4. Start small; Confucius said that, "The man who moves a mountain starts by carrying away small stones." All things great did start small. Break down your dream into small milestones and take one step after another. Have the bigger picture in mind but start small.
  5. Believe in yourself; The greatest favour you can ever do for yourself is to believe in you. The greatest of battles are first won in the mind. You must trust in your abilities and resolve to be the best you can be, and go for it. It is one thing to dream, but it is a totally different thing to begin to take action to actualize dreams. Your destiny is right in your hands. You have the power to shape it however you like.
  6. Love is the greatest; allow yourself to love and be loved in return. Be driven by love in all you do. Like Mother Teresa put it, not all people will appreciate it and reciprocate, but do it anyway. Love never fails. Love lifts you. Let go of past pain, hurt, disappointments, and start life on a clean slate. Forgive others and forgive yourself. Love yourself to be able to love others well, because you cannot give what you do not have.
  7. Constantly improve yourself; I agree with Alvin Tofler when he observed that the illiterates of the 21st century will not be people who cannot read and write, but people who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn. Learning is at the core of it all. Read books, network with great minds, watch movies and invest in your personal growth. When you stop growing, you start dying.
  8. Remember to take rest; Many a times we are on the move, never getting to stop. This is dangerous. You are not a machine. You are human. You’ve got to deliberately set aside time to recharge. Just like a phone, if you do not recharge it, it will die. So will you. Rest ensures you are rejuvenated. It activates your creative power. Take rest!
  9. Never give up; My friend, never ever give up, never give in, never quit. Seasons of life will come and go, some are easy while others are difficult and hard. Remember that its all temporary, that too shall pass. I assure you that setbacks will come your way, but do not allow them to win over you. Soldier on and keep pushing till you succeed. Nobody said it would be easy. But it is worth it. Difficult moments come to refine us. Keep going, don’t stop.
  10. Trust in the Supreme Being; Some things are beyond us as humans, but trust that God has your best interest at heart.

  Photo Credit: Caren Wakoli