Enterprising School Leavers

Enterprising School Leavers
Learning Brief

Umthombo Youth Development Fund

Ensuring effective mentoring of bursars in a growing organisation

Category: Enterprising School Leavers | Facilitate access to educational opportunities | 13 December, 2012 - 11:52


Challenge to be addressed

Rural youth face many challenges in the transition from rural schooling to University and rural areas to cities. These include being poorly prepared academically and socially. These challenges can cause rural youth with academic potential to fail (which is a cost to the UYDF) and may even result in exclusion from university. The high level of success (high pass rates) of the UYDF programme is attributed to the provision of academic and social mentoring support in order for these rural youth to address the challenges they face and succeed. When the programme was supporting a relatively small number of students (4-30), provision of mentoring support was relatively easy. However, as student numbers have increased each year, the challenge for the organisation was to continue to provide effective mentoring support that would assist students to succeed. This challenge was compounded by the fact that the students are studying at 13 different universities across the country. The organisation has a full time Student Mentor, but this person could not effectively mentor in excess of 100 students. The employment of more mentors would become a financial burden to the organisation and their time would not be productively used all day and every day, as most mentoring happens after lectures have finished for the day (16:30).


The strategy was to identify people situated close to, or on the various campuses where our students are studying, who are passionate about youth development and who would be willing to serve as “local mentors”. In this way students could meet their mentor monthly and receive assistance to identify and address their issues, whilst the mentor would hold them accountable. The organisations full time mentor would work with and assist the local mentors to provide the necessary assistance to students and ensure they are held accountable.

How would it work

A decision was made by the UYDF that local mentors would be compensated for the time spent mentoring each student allocated to them. This meant that they could be held accountable for the services they offered. It was felt that if they “volunteered”, they may not be as diligent as we required. The issue of ensuring that all mentors used the same approach and asked questions of students which the UYDF had found to be helpful in the past in assisting students to identify their issues, and to develop solutions to address the issues, was to develop a standardised report template for the mentors. The template contains critical questions about academic and social issues which the mentor is required to ask and record the responses. The report serves as a guide to mentors to help them and the student to identify the problems and compile effective solutions. The report captures the student’s issues (both academic and social), agreed actions to address these, and next meeting date. The completed Student Report (done for each student) is sent to the organisations Student Mentor who uses the report to remain abreast of each student’s progress. The completed and submitted report form leads to payment of the mentor.  


With the above in place, the UYDF Director and Student Mentor started to approach people and share the concept of “local mentors” including what the task would entail and the impact they could have in assisting a young person to succeed at university.

The concept of local mentors was introduced in 2010, and currently we have 12 such mentors, spread around the country and serving between 8-12 students each. Senior students who are progressing well are not allocated a local mentor.


  • The essential mentoring support needed by rural students attending university is being provided by a network of local mentors. Since mentors have between 8-12 students they develop close relationships with their students. All students who have local mentors have indicated the benefit thereof.
  • The organisation has the benefit of the skills of 12 professional people at a fraction of the cost of employing staff to undertake this essential function.
  • The organisations Student Mentor remains abreast of all students progress without the need to physically meet every student (which is virtually impossible since they are scattered around the country)

What could others learn

  • Mentoring support is critical to assist rural youth in their transition from rural areas to city life and rural schooling to tertiary studies. The majority of our students face incredible social issues that may lead to their failure if not addressed.
  • Mentoring support should not just be academic support (which most tertiary institutions offer), but should include assisting students to deal with social or personal issues.
  • A mentor does not need to have expertise in the subjects being studied by students, but they should be able to assist students to identify their problems and develop strategies to overcome them.
  • Be innovative in seeking solutions to address challenges faced. The concept of having local mentors has ensured we provide the support that is critically needed, but at a fraction of the cost.

3 Shongweni Road, Hillcrest, KwaZulu Natal

 031 765 5774


In Short

After providing very effective mentoring and support to their small number of rural bursars pursuing careers in medicine, the Uthomo Youth Development Fund (UYDF) found themselves challenged to provide the same quality of support after their organisation and student numbers started growing.  In this learning brief they share how they have addressed this challenge. 

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