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Ubuntu and Transformational Mentoring in South Africa: 7 Principles of a Culturally Integrated Mentoring Response.


Abstract and Figures

From an ontological perspective, the functions of a mentor include ‘the development of trust, confidence and mutual respect between student and mentor’ (Wadee et al., 2010: 33). The values that arise from this can easily be aligned to the Ubuntu worldview of communalism, cohesion, respect, generosity, mutual care, consensus and tradition (Metz, 2007). Ubuntu, as a relationship-centred paradigm, is a particularly well-suited framework for coaching and coaching training (Geber and Keane, 2013). In mentoring processes where people understand that their cultural roots and worldviews are acknowledged rather than silenced and omitted they feel more secure in their self-development and in their mentors’ efforts at developing their skills and experience. Transformational mentoring which explicitly includes Ubuntu is one way to go about being relevant in multicultural contexts and avoids unconscious projection of exclusive worldviews.
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and Transformational
Mentoring in South Africa:
7 Principles of a Culturally
Integrated Mentoring Response
Hilary Geber and Moyra Keane
Africans have a thing called Ubuntu. It is about the
essence of being human. It is part of the gift that
Africa is going to give to the world. …We believe
that a person is a person through other persons;
that my humanity is caught up and bound up in
yours. …The solitary human being is a contradic-
tion in terms, and therefore you seek to work for
the common good because your humanity comes
into its own in community, in belonging.
(Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, Desmond
Tutu, 1999)
Although many mentoring programmes are
offered in South Africa every year, and some
claim to be based on Ubuntu, the indigenous
way of connecting with others (see, for
example, ‘Big Brother, Big Sister’ and
‘Novalis Ubuntu Institute’ in Cape Town;
‘Ubuntu Academy’ in Cape Town; ‘Ubuntu
Youth’ in KwaZulu-Natal), there is little
explicit reference to how principles of
Ubuntu are incorporated in these mentoring
programmes. This culturally relevant
approach is not explicitly explored nor is it
addressed practically in management train-
ing (Geber and Keane, 2013) even though
there are management books available on
Ubuntu in the workplace’ (Boon, 1996;
Mbigi, 2000; Mkhize, 2008; Msila, 2015). In
instances where Ubuntu is specifically named
in organisational mentor training, the content
provides no indication of how a mentor cen-
tred in Ubuntu would engage from this per-
spective in the mentoring relationship.
Ubuntu is typically invoked simply as a
motivation for engagement.
There is also a scarcity of South African
research into the field of Ubuntu coach-
ing and mentoring. A special issue of the
International Journal of Evidence Based
Coaching and Mentoring (11(2), August
2013) features eight articles on culture in
coaching with only one article on South
Africa. But, again, there is little guidance on
ways to practically embed Ubuntu into men-
toring programmes.
We advocate a mentoring model that
is holistic – that is based on Ubuntu and
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community as a way of bridging the usual
individual-focused Western worldview so
that the mentoring aims and processes are
more inclusive and culturally congruent in
the South African context. This is important
because both mentors and mentees, who may
be from different cultures, typically view the
interactions using unconscious assumptions
or filters/lenses which may be limiting (if not
alienating and confusing) for the mentees in
South Africa. We use examples from numer-
ous case studies to illustrate the need for an
Ubuntu perspective and ways in which it may
infuse the mentor–mentee relationship. In
South Africa senior positions are still often
held by white South Africans who then men-
tor younger black colleagues. In this context,
it is imperative that there is awareness of not
contributing to a patronising ‘colonisation of
the mind’. On the other hand, some mentor-
ing programmes do have junior white staff
being mentored by senior black managers.
In such cases, there is an ideal opportunity
to transform the status quo and to pioneer
Ubuntu in mentoring. Finally, issues of race
will hopefully become far less relevant as
transformational mentoring contributes to
harmonising relationships and communities.
Following on from this context we intend
here to contrast some of the features of dif-
ferent worldview perspectives and contexts
to open up a more transformational space that
is inclusive and respectful of African ways of
relating. The aim of mentoring should be the
development of Ubuntu, which Archbishop
Emeritus Desmond Tutu describes as the ulti-
mate goal for any human being (Tutu, 1999).
He goes further, extending beyond the indi-
vidual to society, by claiming that ‘Social
harmony is for us the greatest good’ (Tutu,
1999: 35).
Ubuntu is defined in isiZulu as ‘Umuntu ngu-
muntu ngabantu’ – a person is a person
through other people. If these notions pro-
vide a focus for the workplace we would
expect to see cohesive teamwork, intercon-
nectedness, caring and being held by a col-
lective vision (Msila, 2015). Compassion,
kindness, and respect are the key values of
Ubuntu espoused in the country’s education
policy (Department of Education, 2000).
Ubuntu refers to an ontology and way of
living that has significant differences from
those of Western paradigms. This is, not to
say, of course, that humanism, empathy and
relationship are not part of a Western para-
digm but to emphasise that, on a continuum
between individualism and interconnected-
ness, a traditional African worldview is
located deeply in connection to community.
Thus, beyond values of kindness and caring,
Ubuntu is a way of experiencing being in the
world. Rather than ‘I think therefore I am’,
Ubuntu is defined as ‘I am a human being
because I belong’. As an organising principle
in understanding the world, Ubuntu is more
consistent with the Asian worldview
(described, for example, by Nisbett, 2003).
In an African worldview, community is not
simply an aggregate sum of individuals, but a
collectivity (Shutte, 2001). Another strong
sense of the depth of Ubuntu beyond the
common notions of moral integrity and
having qualities of generosity is the belief
that a person without Ubuntu is indeed not a
person. Not all human beings are therefore
persons. Personhood is acquired; and the
notion of the community in which it is
acquired could be a challenge for Western
thinking. Ramose explains that the important
process of initiation does not only incorpo-
rate one into personhood within the commu-
nity of the living but also establishes a link
between the initiated and the community of
the living-dead or ancestors (Ramose, 1999).
It is important that we do not over-simplify
or trivialise a worldview. We also caution
against romanticising all aspects of any epis-
temology and ontology. As any Google search
will quickly show, Ubuntu has become a buz-
zword, and multiculturalism is sometimes
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UbUntU and TransformaTional menToring in souTh africa
promoted zealously without problematis-
ing issues of complexity and dissonances.
The self-awareness practices of mentor-
ing and coaching as well as opportunities
for seeing different perspectives are useful
in keeping culture dynamic and construc-
tive. Consider some of the shadow aspects
of Ubuntu alluded to by Gorjestani (2010),
the Chief Knowledge Officer for the African
region of the World Bank: community loyalty
sometimes leads to factions or xenophobia;
respect for elders may inhibit change or lead
to unwarranted loyalty; accepted hierarchi-
cal structures are often at odds with gender
equity; fostering independence, a sense of
agency and curiosity is not encouraged in
young people who are not expected to ques-
tion elders. Individual rights are not necessar-
ily upheld in an Ubuntu perspective and even
individual eccentricity may be unacceptable.
These are areas that need to be discussed,
acknowledged and negotiated while strength-
ening features relevant for mentoring pro-
grammes in contexts of multiple worldviews.
Imminent scholars, such as the Nobel
Peace laureate, Maathai, have spoken against
the loss of cultural identity:
People without culture feel insecure and are
obsessed with the acquisition of material things,
which give them a temporary security…
Without culture, a community loses self-
awareness and guidance and grows weak and
vulnerable. It disintegrates from within as it suffers
a lack of identity, dignity, self-respect and a sense
of destiny. (Maathai, 2004:23)
The characteristics of identity, dignity, self-
respect and destiny are directly related to
mentoring goals and interactions – and are
especially pertinent in a country where there
is a legacy of exclusion and denigration of
most of the population.
A deeper exploration of the features of an
African worldview and its practical under-
pinning of personal growth is long overdue,
where Black South Africans have been pushed
to the margins of authentic participation.
In the following section we explore some
of the features of an African worldview and
Ubuntu and contrast this with a more Western
worldview. We acknowledge that this very
classification and the creation of binary
oppositions is a feature of Western scientific
thought! We suggest that, of course, there is
a continuum across worldviews rather than
a dichotomy and that people of one culture
may, in fact, tend towards affiliating with the
worldview of a different culture. However,
we provide a table outlining features of an
African worldview and a Western world-
view which we have synthesised from three
research sources. Our aim is to note the less
than universal assumptions we sometimes
make about, for example, knowledge, rela-
tionships, self and personal success.
From this it is evident that one world-
view may be inimical to another in obtuse
and unconscious ways. There is likely to be
accepted and assumed ‘good practice’ in our
teaching, intended outcomes and processes
that may be at odds with another culture’s
paradigms. These differences also provide an
insight into values: the practical may be seen
as more important that the abstract. Similarly,
as an example, consider the value placed on
‘competitiveness’ in the West, as opposed
to co-operation. Processes of assessment,
league tables and competitiveness are privi-
leged over co-operation; assertiveness over
harmony; independence over interdepend-
ence. In Africa, sharing and reciprocity are
norms throughout the continent (Nsamenang,
1992). On the one hand we can easily see
how the spirit of mentoring fits well with this
orientation; on the other we need to note that
the drive for individual achievement, compet-
itiveness and personal freedom with a sense
of agency may cause dissonance.
Ubuntu and transformational
Mentoring with an awareness of different
worldviews brings about change on a macro
level in organisations and not only at an indi-
vidual level (Ivey etal., 2013). This is an
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important factor where policies and practices
in the workplace are changing (Geber, 2006).
The transformational model of mentoring
(Geber, 2006) involves establishing learning
alliances for professional development and
a commitment to social and organisational
change (Geber, 2003). An indigenous trans-
formational mentoring programme integrates
both Western and indigenous worldviews
(Geber and Nyanjom, 2009). Mentors need to
focus on reciprocal learning and be prepared
to learn about African Ubuntu principles
and their application from mentees. Being
respectful, being aware of mentees’ condi-
tioning about respect for elders and experts
and reflecting on how they interact with
mentees is necessary in these cross-cultural
relationships (Geber and Nyanjom, 2009).
We now present a case-study example of a
large-scale mentoring intervention.
Case-study example
In 2013 a jobs-fund partnership project by an
environmental organisation aimed at creating
sustainable job opportunities for 555 unem-
ployed graduates and 245 school leavers with
matric certificates. The support structure for
this project was based on a transformational
mentoring model giving the 800 participating
young people workplace experience through
Table 31.1 Contrasting worldview perspectives
worldview Western worldview
The world is seen as holistic and anthropomorphic
Substance is important
The world is categorised into dualities: living and non-
living; mind & matter
Form is important
Causes of events are complex; seek resonances; empathise
with relevant players
Causes are linear and predictable; deterministic;
scenario-writing and testing
Interdependence of all things is self-evident
Linked to life stage and role; goals linked to community
Independence is prized
Person has stable attributes, ‘one true self’, ‘personality
tests’; personal wishes and goals key
Basic; extensive; relating encouraged Taught to respect authority
Useful; often some isolation; ‘networking’ encouraged
Encouraged to challenge authority
Argument / learning
‘To argue with logical consistency … may not only be resented
but also be regarded as immature’ (Nisbett, 2003)
Practical and/or allegory valued
Knowledge gained through ‘apprenticeship’ ceremony, initiation
Logical argument considered an essential aspect of
Abstraction valued as a thinking tool
Knowledge gained through formal courses
Hierarchy valued as a norm
Aiming for equality assumed as universal value
Co-operation encouraged
Success seen as a group goal
Success relates to harmony / humility
Competitiveness encouraged
Success seen as individual achievement
Conflict and critique leads to achievement
Managing conflict
Collective decision-making, practical
Trading, arguing from principles
Importance of place
Place-based community valued
Freedom of location
Expect to move often, as part of individual achievement
Freedom of action
Collective, freedom available through community and support
Individual, unconstrained by relationships
Up and down, circular; consultative
Linear, continuing; time efficient
This table is adapted and synthesised from Nisbett 2003; Ogunniyi, 2004; Keane 2006.
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UbUntU and TransformaTional menToring in souTh africa
a structured mentoring programme, together
with skills development and training oppor-
tunities for a period of two and a half years.
The participants, known as ‘pioneers’, were
placed with one of the 43 partner organisa-
tions for the duration of the three-year pro-
ject. There were approximately 350 mentors
engaged in mentoring the participants and
50 regional coordinators working with them.
The mentor engagements proved to be
rewarding and worthwhile. Mentors indi-
cated that they would be willing to share
their newly acquired knowledge and skills
with colleagues who were unable to attend
the mentor workshops. A large community of
mentoring practice has been established
together with consistent and diligent mentor-
ing of mentees using Ubuntu principles.
Such a lengthy mentored internship has
resulted in permanent jobs for 260 mentees
to date. This is not insignificant in the con-
text of an unemployment rate in South Africa
of 26.4 per cent.1
Mentoring models, which focus on the
traditional roles and functions of the men-
tee–mentor relationship, do not sufficiently
address aspects of cross-cultural contexts. If
mentors regard their mentees as ‘apprentices’
or ‘protégés’ they may reinforce the margin-
ality of black mentees. In cross-cultural men-
toring relationships, mentors play a crucial
role in managing to overcome racial prejudice
in the workplace. This is vitally important in
South Africa, where black people are not a
minority population but are under-repre-
sented in organisations for historical reasons.
Mentors may have to make special and often
creative efforts to integrate their mentees into
work departments at the beginning of the
mentoring relationship: being proactive in
preventing the exploitation of mentees, offer-
ing mentees the opportunity of doing high-
status work, even in a small way at first, and
developing a sense of achievement through
challenging work. Mentors need to become
aware of and reflect on the reciprocal learn-
ing which ideally takes place in cross-cultural
mentoring relationships. In so doing, mentors
who fulfil all the functions which facilitate
transformed relationships will have a long-
term impact on the structure of organisations,
particularly where the management or more
senior staff is still predominantly white.
We have drawn out from case studies
such as that above the key features for train-
ing mentors as well as practical steps for
The 7 principles of a culturally
integrated mentoring response
• Awareness: Our ways of working are often
habitual and culturally framed. Training needs to
expose and explore assumptions, ways of talking
and relating. Check how ways of interacting are
working; suspend judgement; stretch one’s range
of Being-in-the-world.
• Time and commitment: From an Ubuntu per-
spective, time is valued less for getting things
done quickly than for giving of one’s time.
Mentors and mentees may relax the pace to
show respect for, and value in, the process.
• Respect: This is a core value that needs to be cen-
tral to the training, mentoring relationship. Take spe-
cific care over language use and forms of address.
‘Respect is not just about saying “please” or
“thank you”. It’s about listening intently to
others’ ideas and not insisting that your ideas
prevail … It’s about displaying characteris-
tics of humility, generosity, and patience’
(Louis, 2007, p. 133 in Khupe, 2014).
• Explicit cultural references: In the mentor-
ing process mentor and mentee need to make
explicit ‘how things work’ in my world/my con-
text/my view.
• Inclusion: Finding ways to explicitly and warmly
include the mentee – invite the mentee to func-
tions, introduce them to colleagues, facilitate
opportunities for them to join communities.
• Care: This is the underlying modality that under-
pins community and interconnection.
• Story: Telling stories is a powerful way to learn
and relate, to share and to explore.
‘When you see two people together you think: Ah,
there is a story there!’ (Achebe, 2003)
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From an ontological perspective, the func-
tions of a mentor include ‘the development
of trust, confidence and mutual respect
between student and mentor’ (Wadee etal.,
2010:33). The values that arise from this can
easily be aligned to the Ubuntu worldview of
communalism, cohesion, respect, generosity,
mutual care, consensus and tradition (Metz,
2007). Ubuntu, as a relationship-centred par-
adigm, is a particularly well-suited frame-
work for coaching and coaching training
(Geber and Keane, 2013).
In mentoring processes where people
understand that their cultural roots and
worldviews are acknowledged rather than
silenced and omitted they feel more secure in
their self-development and in their mentors’
efforts at developing their skills and experi-
ence. Transformational mentoring which
explicitly includes Ubuntu is one way to go
about being relevant in multicultural contexts
and avoids unconscious projection of exclu-
sive worldviews.
1 Other case studies which have used a transfor-
mational mentoring model have been published
and can be accessed in Ivey etal. (2013); Geber &
Koyana (2012); Geber (2014).
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... Our story is framed by mentoring research and shared in this visual graphic (see Figure 1) containing several elements for consideration: qualities of care when mentoring, how to engage the protégé, mentoring competencies, ethical principles in mentoring experiences, and characteristics in culturally integrated mentoring (Geber & Keane, 2017;Johnson, 2017;Sanyal, 2017). These are further explored as we describe our mentoring experience and how it impacts professional learning in digitally supported environments. ...
... Here we focus on the development of our professional learning and relationship as framed by the seven principles of culturally integrated mentoring outlined by Geber & Keane (2017). These principles include awareness, time and commitment, respect, explicit cultural references, inclusion, care, and story. ...
... HD: Geber and Keane (2017) describe respect as listening intently and deferring to decisions and actions from another person. There were times when I pushed RC to consider my ideas and options, knowing full well that final decisions were hers to make. ...
Full-text available
This paper offers insight from an informal cross-cultural mentoring experience of course development in higher education framed by the UNESCO Chair on Open Technologies for Open Educational Resources and Open Learning project. The Open Education for a Better World is a tuition-free international online mentoring program established to unlock the potential of open education in achieving the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals. Drawing from mentor/protégé conversations and reflections and examining the experiences of mentoring in the development of an online course for Indian teacher education faculty development, the authors illuminate a pathway toward building professional relationships and professional learning beyond borders and boundaries. This paper describes how mentorship can develop digital competencies foundational for transferring tacit knowledge about planning, designing, recording, implementing, and evaluating teaching and learning in education. Explicit knowledge-building for professional learning within a supportive mentoring relationship is explored.
... As a nurse, her professional life was full of compassion and selflessness towards the care of her patients. The philosophy of Ubuntu was first described in a Zulu aphorism which says 'Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu': a person is a person through other people (Geber & Keane, 2017). The Ubuntu philosophy is shared in other African countries, especially those south of the Sahara. ...
... Ubuntu is about I am because you are, you are because I am and I can only be a person because of other persons (Geber & Keane, 2017). This aphorism resonates with the ethics of care described by Paul Ricouer when he says: "care is about being with the other and for them" as cited in (Maio, 2018). ...
Full-text available
Introduction Younger professional nurses are the future of the nursing profession and they receive the baton from older and retired nurses to continue the profession in good light. Ubuntu is an African philosophy that is embedded in caring ethics and it is viewed as a core value of the nursing profession and is highly valued by older nurses. Objective We explored the perceptions of retired nurses on factors that prevent younger professional nurses from applying the ethos of Ubuntu in professional care. Methods In this study, we explored the factors that prevent younger professional nurses from applying the ethos of Ubuntu in professional care. In this qualitative explorative study, data were collected during focus group discussions in a workshop held with 40 retired nurses in a province in South Africa. The transcripts were analyzed following the six steps outlined by Braun and Clarke (2006). Results Based on the perceptions of the retired nurses two main themes emerged as factors that prevent the younger professional nurses from applying the ethos of Ubuntu in their professional practice; 1) Motivation to practice Ubuntu in nursing, 2) Lack of political will to recognize nursing. Conclusion Retired nurses felt that Ubuntu could be applied in nursing care if these factors are addressed by both nurses and stakeholders.
... Mentors can be teachers, counsellors, social workers, peers, workmates or experienced and skilled persons (Geber and Keane, 2017). In most cases, they are volunteers who are not paid for the work they are doing or they do it as part of their work but there are also paid positions. ...
... Ubuntu and Transformational Mentoring in South Africa: 7 Principles of a Culturally Integrated Mentoring Response (Geber and Keane, 2017). South Africa. ...
Technical Report
Full-text available
Mentoring refers to a cultural, natural or professional relationship that results from a person working with peer(s) or an older person(s) to develop their skills within the expectations of a cultural, religious, political, social, academic or professional context. Mentoring can happen at individual, family, group or community level. Often, literature speaks of professional mentoring but other communities identify more with culturally or naturally situated mentoring. As with other immigrants, young people from an African background encounter unique social, psychological and economic challenges that could be addressed using culturally informed interventions. While there is a lot of research on youth mentorship in Australia, less is known about mentoring young people from African backgrounds. Therefore, this research was consummated to address this gap in the literature with the ultimate intention of contributing to interventions. We searched literature on the subject from databases on the University of Wollongong (UOW) library website but also outside. We were searching for researches and reports on mentoring programs or models for young people of African origin throughout the world. Twenty-five (25) articles from Australia, USA, UK and South Africa met this inclusion criteria and were reviewed. Twenty-four articles described a mentoring program or model each, some briefly yet some in detail. One article described two different programs, resulting in a total of 26 programs and models. The 26 programs and models were grouped into seven approaches: individual; family; group; community; critical or transformational; natural; and cultural. Before the review was done, background information about mentoring was gathered. This report will start by providing this background information about mentoring in general; mentoring in the African context and a summary of the situation of young people of African origin in Australia. It will then describe the methodology used during the review and the programs and models found in the literature reviewed. It will end with a brief section on issues, lessons and themes arising from the review. The next activity involves presenting this report to organizations in the Illawarra region for co-sense making. In the process of co-sense making, the researchers will gain insights into programs and models used in the Illawarra region while the service providers from the organizations will gain insights from approaches that we found in the literature reviewed. This mutual process will also help in identifying areas for future research as well as opportunities for collaboration.
This chapter situates Ubuntu epistemology, Sankofa scale, Africana womanism, and African American male theory within an African American leadership and mentoring frame. This research is used to create an Afrocentric episteme through which the African American experience as both a leader and a trainee can be better understood. This chapter analyzes the research regarding the purpose and promise of such a frame. It explores the preparation that instructors and physical spaces must undergo in order to facilitate the 21st century mentee in meeting career goals. It outlines the roles and agendas of preceptors associated with an African American leadership and mentoring frame. The final aim of this project is to use transformative and restorative measures to create a dialogue and actionable steps toward equality and efficacy in the job market and within the global knowledge economy.
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is an old African concept, a way of life that was like a religion in many African societies long before the days of colonisation. Ubuntu means to sacrifice for others selflessly, caring for and protecting your fellow human beings. Applying ubuntu in the workplace is not always understood. Ubuntu: Shaping the current workplace with (African) wisdom looks at how we can use the old values and wisdom of our forebears to create more humane and productive workplaces. In Ubuntu: Shaping the current workplace with (African) wisdom Professor Vuyisile Msila presents the five Ps of ubuntu, which contain the elements enabling organisations to thrive. An ubuntu-inspired workplace focuses on: • Dependability • Team work • Interconnectedness • Caring • Being led by a collective vision • Performance • Loyalty • Openness • Honesty • Transformational leadership Prof Vuyisile Msila is the Head for the Institute for African Renaissance Studies at Unisa. His research focuses on general leadership and management as well as professional development of school principals. He also focuses on African leadership models, the improvement of education and the Africanisation of curricula. The five Ps of ubuntu displayed in this book should be considered for effective workplaces. Vuyisile Msila has reconceptualised management and leadership in the workplace. Ubuntu-driven approaches have never been so relevant as they are today for thriving organisations. Prof Mishack Gumbo, (IKS Specialist), University of South Africa This very powerful book has to be the most definitive work I have read to date on the concept of ubuntu and what it means in the workplace. This is a truly seminal book that is a must-read for anyone hoping to implement and embed the African philosophy of ubuntu into their organisation. It offers a comprehensive and compelling theoretical range of underpinnings, with practical wisdom on how to make it work. Prof Shirley Zinn, CEO Shirley Zinn Consulting and non-executive director and trustee of boards and trusts
Indigenous methodologies are an alternative way of thinking about research processes. Although these methodologies vary according to the ways in which different Indigenous communities express their own unique knowledge systems, they do have common traits. This article argues that research on Indigenous issues should be carried out in a manner which is respectful and ethically sound from an Indigenous perspective. This naturally challenges Western research paradigms, yet it also affords opportunities to contribute to the body of knowledge about Indigenous peoples. It is further argued that providing a mechanism for Indigenous peoples to participate in and direct these research agendas ensures that their communal needs are met, and that geographers then learn how to build ethical research relationships with them. Indigenous methodologies do not privilege Indigenous researchers because of their Indigeneity, since there are many ‘insider’ views, and these are thus suitable for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers. However, there is a difference between research done within an Indigenous context using Western methodologies and research done using Indigenous methodologies which integrates Indigenous voices. This paper will discuss those differences while presenting a historical context of research on Indigenous peoples, providing further insights into what Indigenous methodologies entail, and proposing ways in which the academy can create space for this discourse.
In search of the African business renaissance: An African cultural perspective
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