Peter Baur, Associate Professor at the University of Johannesburg’s (UJs’) School of Economics, used his observation of the husky dogs he fosters to illustrate the value of the mentoring process the university’s College of Business and Economics (CBE) has initiated for its first-year students.
Professor Baur was speaking during a panel discussion at the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) programme Lekgotla 2023, hosted at the University of the Western Cape from 6-8 September.
The discussion was on Mentorship as a tool to develop and sustain entrepreneurship within the arts and cultural industries.
“Now let us add the human element,” he said. “Universities understand everything from economics to science, religion to philosophy and can articulate about them from an academic perspective. But when a young person comes to us from a background that we don’t always understand,” Baur said, he wonders whether he is really reaching that audience. He [the professor] is the one that needs to adapt; he cannot expect the students to adapt to him. By getting other students to mentor these first years, they touch on the elements he, as “an institutionalist,” cannot reach. He meant “those additional tools that we can’t as a university just bring across in a classroom, and those skills are what a student needs to survive, given a very challenging and changing environment”, Baur said.
Now let us add the human element, he said. Universities understand everything from economics to science, religion to philosophy and can articulate about them from an academic perspective. “But when a young person comes to us from a background that we don’t always understand,” he said, he wonders whether he is really reaching that audience. He is the one that needs to adapt; he cannot expect the students to adapt to him. By getting other students to mentor these first years, they touch on the elements he, as “an institutionalist,” cannot reach. He meant “those additional tools that we can’t as a university just bring across in a classroom, and those skills are what a student needs to survive, given a very challenging and changing environment”, Baur said.
He said they did a lot of work analysing how these programmes would work best to help students improve their throughput rate and their level of happiness at university. And they have found the mentorship programme has helped the students adapt so much better into their studies from a much earlier stage.
The other panellist in the discussion, Ms Samantha Layton-Matthews (above), a training and development consultant who guest lectures in School Public Management, Governance and Public Policy at UJ, said she encounters some of the mentors in her work at the university. She said she has seen how the learning activity has become a skill, and how these mentors are learning from one another because they support each other and start complementing each other’s strengths.
Layton-Matthews works closely with Baur in ACRU, the Arts & Culture Creative Research Unit launched in October 2022. ACRU is a partnership between the Arts and Culture Trust (ACT) and UJ’s CBE, which aims to promote arts and culture research by positioning it within economic growth and exploring multi-disciplinary approaches to building and researching the creative economy.
Without naming any, she highlighted how some specialised institutions in the creative industry that offer degrees are using mentorship programmes that have helped them cross the continuum between the institutional and commercial spaces. While learning theoretically, the students are already being geared to be industry-ready by the time they graduate. Their programmes are 60% practical and 40% theoretical “and from year one in the degree programmes they are already building a portfolio, working with industry itself,” she said. Some industry specialists are even brought in as lecturers and the result is programmes that are relevant and in touch with the latest trends that are integrated into their teaching component.
Effectively, they are ”startup creatives that are ultimately going into the creative industry,” she said.
Choosing and training mentors
Layton-Matthews said not everyone is cut out to be a mentor who needs to have certain fundamental skills such an ability to provide emotional support. Good problem-solving and critical thinking are also qualities which could be transferred via osmosis to those they’re working with, she said.
The institution needed to provide suitable support structures to guide the process, or the mentors could become disabled. Mentoring in the creative industry would be different to the university space, and would require different criteria for mentors, but there would be similarities. This included beginning with the end in mind, that is, who are they mentoring?
Mentorship helps bridge the gap between what they are trying to teach, and the students assimilating the content.
Baur said they were very aware of students who became mentors only because it might eventually help them earn an income, or because they acquired a certificate to say they had been a mentor. “But we will not give them a salary. We will not pay them for this. This must be voluntary. It must come from themselves. They must attend the training. They must participate in regular meetings with coordinators. We need the right kind of skills. And we also need the right kind of commitment to come with it,“ he said.
How do the mentors stay motivated
Professor Matshediso ‘Tshidi’ Mohapeloa (below), Acting Director: Rhodes University Centre for Entrepreneurship Rapid Incubator and Coordinator of the Postgraduate Diploma in Enterprise Management at the Rhodes Business School, who chairs EDHE’s Community of Practice in Entrepreneurship Learning and Teaching, facilitated the panel discussion.
She questioned how UJ’s CBE motivated the students to be recruited and then stay in the programme, if the mentors did not get any recognition for their mentoring.
Layton-Matthews said the mentorship programme was by invitation; students nominated themselves to take part in it. They were informed they would become skilled in certain areas in addition to their studies. She said monetary rewards would depend on the type of mentorship programme and the outcomes it aimed to achieve.
Mohapeloa said it seems university mentorship programmes are focusing on strengthening mentors. “And we don’t focus on strengthening mentees,” she said, adding this needed further thought.
Her final comment was that mentorship programmes must involve an experience or skillset being transferred, whether through guidance, influence or directly. It must be done in a structured manner and must always have a goal to be met, with alignment between mentors and mentees.
Dr Lindiwe (Malindi) Kunene, Management and Entrepreneurship Lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) commented when the discussion was opened to the floor.
“Thank you. This session was close to my heart. I’m the head of music for the KwaZulu-Natal province. So, I’m in the creative industry space.” Dr Kunene (right) is also Chair of the Board of Directors of Kumisa, an Economic Development provincial initiative which assists music entrepreneurs to acquire business and industry skills. (According to Sounds of the South, an African Music Business curation collective that brings together creatives from across the Southern African Development Community (SADC), in 2020 the music industry injected R 2.2billion into the South African economy.
“The reality is that the music space lacks understanding that the music it produces is a commodity. As a result, we’re bleeding a lot of possible income because we don’t have systems in place and the committees and organisations that are in place have become very weak. The KZN government realised this and engineered the committee I am chairperson of, for the province. They identified they needed industry in the room. They needed to have academics in the room. We are a group made up of people from different backgrounds. And I came in from a background of governance because I come from the School of Management, IT and Governance.
“We have become the only organisation in the music industry that has in the past 10 years developed and created an economy including knowledge development for the people in the industry. We just signed a contract to do an incubator for the music industry. We are involving entrepreneurship skills together with music industry skills, and that’s the only way to do it.”
Gillian Anstey is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.