What does it mean to be a mentor?

by Michael King

What does it mean to be a mentor?

A mentor is defined as an experienced and trusted advisor.  Synonyms include swami and maharishi. To me, mentoring flows from this parable: Give someone fish and they will eat for the day. Give someone a fishing pole and they will eat for a lifetime.

Buy why does India need mentors?

Perhaps they are tired of hand-me-downs from more developed countries, consultants whose main recommendations is another study, and unscrupulous contractors.  I recall a World Bank funded roadway project in India.  The partially built road was four lanes in one section, six in another, and three elsewhere.  Generally roads have a consistent number of lanes, so I found it odd.  During a site visit I pulled the contractor aside and queried him.  He told me they get paid by the lane.  So if they can pave more lanes, they will.

What would a mentor have done in this situation?

Ideally, I would have had the ear of the city and been able to advise them against such machinations.  I would have explained that more is not necessarily better, that the money spent on extra paving could be better spent on trees and playgrounds, and that sellers always want to sell more.

“Blind men in the market, buying what we’re sold.” — N Peart

To carry the parable further, a mentor also needs to teach one how to fish.  Otherwise, what good is the fishing pole?  To that end, the CITIIS program is organizing training sessions to share the latest knowledge and ideas from around the world.  My Amritsar project is replacing 10,000 diesel auto-rickshaws with e-rickshaws.  This has never been attempted on this scale anywhere in the world, but we can learn from other cities and systems that have had similar, smaller efforts.  My Dehradun project is a child-friendly city effort, which is sorely needed in rapidly developing India.  There is an abundance of literature on these types of projects which we will dissect and deliver.

The last point on mentoring may be humility.  I am a mentor, not an expert.  To claim expertise in India, coming from abroad, would be the height of hubris.

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