Why we should all be mentoring 1 hour a week

William Kamkwamba grew up in poverty in Dowa, Malawi. At a young age a crippling famine forced him to drop out of school because his family couldn’t afford the tuition. Determined to get an education, Kamkwamba went to the library and read every day. Soon enough, through his own determination to learn, he could fix all of the village electronics to make a living. Over time he took on bigger projects including a windmill that powered some electrical appliances in his family’s home and today he is now internationally famous.

For every William there are thousands of equally smart people who don’t escape poverty. While he had a rare trait of being extreme determination, more often motivation comes from high expectations from parents, family and friends around you. If you take two equally smart kids, the one with parents who set high expectations to go to college are much more likely to go. Studies show for disadvantaged kids a mentor can double the likelihood they’ll go to college. Sometimes even just knowing about an option, having an uncle who is an engineer gives kids awareness and a reality check about something they may be interested to do.

The line “it’s not what you know, but who you know” is true, for better or worse. Your network creates opportunities regardless of who deserves them. 70% of jobs are acquired through who you know, not simply sending a resume to a company. This means the majority of jobs aren’t even given to the most qualified candidate necessarily but the one who has a diverse network.

A diverse network also helps us in much more important ways than simple economic success. It helps us cope and overcome hardships. Deep trusting relationships are proven to help us feel safe and persist through career and personal challenges. Sometimes those close to you do terrible things and it is only through seeing how friends or their families handle something that help you realize what your family does isn’t acceptable.

Networks are more available to the wealthy, people in poverty have less natural access to them. Let’s give every single kid in the world access to successful adults who can give them support and expose them to opportunities. Just by the simple fact that you’re reading this article on Medium, you probably have more social capital than the average person in the world. Which is why I’m writing to you. We will never have perfect equality but if you give 1 hour a week to mentor disadvantaged students together we can make the faces of success more diverse and equitable.

Can you spare 1 hour a week? I just signed up to mentor with WeTeachScience.org that allows you to do this mentoring mostly remotely so you don’t need to get to a school once a week. Let me know if this article makes you think more about mentoring.

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