Why learning, mentorship and uBuntu matters in attaining an accomplished life

Education Tips

By Dr Siyanda Mkweli

About the writer: Dr Siyanda Mkweli works as a Systems Manager in a Health Informatics Service (HIS) for a local NHS organisation. In this write-up he shares his views on some of the values that drive him. Dr. Mkweli is a former University of Zimbabwe lecturer in Structural Geology who over the past years re-skilled and moved away from the lecture room into management in the NHS. He was recently awarded the national NHS Mentor/ Coach of the Year, 2014. He received this prestigious award in a very colourful event held in central London by the NHS to celebrate leaders at all levels in health and social care. The awards recognise leaders who have done brilliant work in improving patient care and experience; individuals who had gone the extra mile to motivate and inspire their peers, and provide exemplary leadership. In accepting the award Dr Mkweli is quoted as saying, “My 10 year old son asked me that having won the regional award what will happen if you win the national award, is the international award next ... maybe this is a lesson on how the NHS has become international”

In 2013, Dr. Mkweli had won the NHS East Midlands region, Coach/Mentor of the year award.

using skills appropriately

The modern world poses many societal challenges, some of them insurmountable and yet a great many of them conquerable. In life however, the challenge is to separate between the two and then use appropriate tools and know- how to either negotiate around the obstacles or overcome them. Whilst obstacles and challenges have always been there in all human history, one is tempted to conclude that the modern world introduces more complex and more diverse challenges. Consequently, these challenges are more pronounced within those age groups that have not known any other world except the modern one. There is just no other experience to call upon! I am particularly reminded of a CNN news article that I once saw on television. A two year old was struggling to open the pages of a magazine … wait for it …he was trying ‘a drag and slide’ with his fingers on the cover page, with the hope that other pages will slide in as the others slid out!! Who can blame him, he was using the skills that the modern world had taught him and that was his skill set developed from his experiences. Before you misunderstand me there is nothing wrong with this modernity, but this skill set on its own will fall short for this toddler! My belief is that we all owe it to each other in developing a more holistic understanding of our world. This is where I believe societal challenges, conquerable or not can be mitigated or overcome.

learning through community

A recent piece of research by Barclays reveals and makes some very startling conclusions concerning the age group that has only known the modern world. • “School leavers are entering the workplace struggling to adapt to basic entry level jobs because of inability to perform simple tasks” • “More than 43% of business leaders surveyed said young people failed to properly understand how long to take for breaks or how often to take them” These observations may be easily glossed over yet they reveal something significant about how this particular age group is developing. The challenge is as much for this age group as it is for all of us. In a modern world where all is “cool” it can sometimes be difficult for one to lift up their hand and say “I need some input into my life”. I learnt to raise my hand much earlier on in my life. Without the helping hands and assuring voices of others, I am all too aware that my life could have turned out very differently. In particular, I learnt that in order to make any meaningful contribution to one’s life and society one must incorporate the authentic African philosophy of uBuntu that says, “I am because we are, We are because I am”. This, together with my faith in God, informed and anchored my approach to life. My strong belief in that I am a better person when those around me also become better has meant that my gravitation into mentor/mentee – coach/ coached relationships came natural.

Inspired and empowered

Perhaps an understanding of some of my life milestones may help place things into perspective. In high school I was inspired by my teacher to consider a career in Geology, four years later I was working for a mining company as a Geologist, with an honours degree in Geology under my belt. Whilst studying for my first degree, one of my lecturers convinced me that I had all it takes to become a fine academic. Another six years on, I was standing in front of an international audience fully engaged with respected earth scientists, with a voice that could be listened to and a PhD to my credit. Academia was not an end in my career path. I found myself in the UK without a job, having failed to secure a previously offered academic position in one of the local Universities. Once again, with incredible support and advice from those around me I re-skilled and re-established myself a few years later as a competent IT professional and today I am a respected manager in IT.

The uBuntu philosophy

You are better when others around you are better. All the time I never lost sight of the uBuntu philosophy, realising that I am better, when others around me become better too! From this I have found it easy to venture outside my normal work responsibilities, determined to see others around me become everything that they can possibly be. With assistance from my employer and a few individuals that I have identified as enablers in my life, I made myself available as mentor/coach to others to help focus their career paths and general skills in dealing with life. Outside work I do similar activities on a voluntary basis in various communities.

Why this story?

I believe my story shows how our lives can be shaped and refocused by people around us. With such inputs into our lives, our journeys in life can tack trajectories that were never in our dreams or plans. The important thing is never to stand still no matter the challenges - keep pursuing all possible paths that come your way. It is easy to view life and think those that make it are those that have got it all figured out. My experiences suggest otherwise, you can achieve, you can become something for as long as you are determined and are willing to adapt, learn new skills and accept there are others who have trod the same paths before you. Whilst the ultimate responsibility lies with the individual, never underestimate the power of a nurturing voice and a guiding hand.

Dr. Mkweli’s video explaining why he won his category is available on this link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQ7IDycpLDs See more about his community and voluntary work at www.milloservices.co.uk