- Devotha Mlay is director of programmes at Girls Livelihood and Mentorship Initiative (Glami) -- a mentorship organization based in Arusha. She talks to The Citizen Rising Woman about the vital role of mentorship programmes in grooming women to be future leaders
Devotha Mlay takes us down memory lane describing how her parents influenced her life choices. She says they [her parents] were teachers who were so passionate about seeing their students excel in what they did.
“They invested a lot in their students and guiding them in their pursuit for excellence. This both prepared and encouraged me to become a mentor and run my own programme while also investing in scholars,” Devotha says.
She adds that many girls grow up believing in what society sets for them, whereby most of the life frames are only limiting factors hindering their potential, true growth.
“Societal frames and messages tend to restrict girls, showing them that they are weak and that their main purpose is to take care of the families; they grow up believing that being confident and determined in what they want is being rude, and that asking questions to elders or their teachers shows a lack of good manners,” says Ms Mlay.
She talks of one of the most difficult moments she faced as the global Covid-19 pandemic unfolded. Ms Mlay says last year was a big challenge but also an opportunity for growth in so many ways.
“I rose to the managerial position at the beginning of 2020. And then the global pandemic set in and schools closed. The organization had to prepare an online program so that we would ensure girls would return to school once facilities reopened with fresh knowledge as they prepared for the forthcoming exams,” says Ms Mlay.
She further says: “We established two toll-free hotlines so girls could reach their mentors and request additional support without using their personal funds. Those hotlines also helped us identify and work with government officials to support girls who faced serious and urgent situations, from food insecurity to violence or threats of early marriage.”
Her leadership style is a listening yet challenging leader who motivates her students to question and be problem solvers.
Ms Mlay speaks of mentoring and how it pushes one’s efforts to their goals, although she grew up without a mentor, Ms Mlay says she reliazed that she would eventually need a person that would support her to reach her leadership dreams.
“Currently, I have several different mentors whom I discuss with leadership matters and ways I can manage government relations and the educational system, as well as my role,” she details.
Ms Mlay reveals that being in the managerial position, she has mentees who look up to her for advice and guidance on leadership matters as well as other roles.
She talks of formal training and how impactful it can be, says Leadership does not fully require formal training and that it entailed by the act of fearlessness in application of new knowledge in a manner that can make a difference.
Ms Mlay further speaks of leadership programmes which are practically instilled in carried out at Glami whereas there is ‘Kisa Project’ and ‘Binti Shupavu’.
“The Kisa pogramme’, our two-year leadership course, has operated for a decade. About five years ago, we decided to take what we had learned from this project to create Binti Shupavu, our mentoring programme for younger girls in their first four years of secondary school,” says Ms Mlay.
These two projects are evaluated annually through detailed surveys and focus groups of scholars, parents, as well as our partner schools.
“We also participate in larger research partnerships such as the Regional Education Learning Initiative in East Africa and AMPLIFY, which is a collective of organizations like ours that run programming to support the development and empowerment of adolescent girls,” Ms Mlay details.
The collaboration has proven success as it has helped Glami to learn and experience new ways to support girls, as they assist Glami to think differently of ways to strengthen their own programmes.
For Ms Mlay, gender gap in top leadership positions for women is partially caused by the lack of skills that can be put into practice, skills like confidence, resilience, and leadership.
She explains that skills attainment eases in pursuing one’s goals because it falls in line what they want to become, it adds value to what a person aims to achieve.
“The confidence, resilience, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills girls get through Glami’s mentoring programmes have huge and lasting long-term implications. When you educate a girl and set her up with the tools to succeed and make her own decisions, you create a tremendous ripple effect in a community.
Academic and health outcomes improve, and communities begin to realize the value and worth of girls,” says Ms Mlay.
“We can eliminate lack of diversity in all top leadership roles once we start lifting each other up, by helping other women succeed as well as sharing the experiences during their leadership journey,” says Ms Mlay.
On her leadership role, she reveals that it is a demanding job, now more than ever as she is also studying for a graduate degree and overlooking the organization operations.
“I like to run, it helps me to think more clearly and it calms me down. Between a demanding job, studying for my graduate degree, and caring for my young girls sometimes everything feels like too much. So, I give myself permission to close my laptop and put on my running shoes.
“I give myself permission to take care of myself. I think that part is important: you have to believe that you are worthy of investing in yourself. It takes practice, and it might mean asking for help sometimes. But you’re worth it - and a good habit of self-care will only help you become a better leader,” details Ms Mlay.