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Such as with Fulcrum’s Collections onboarding manager, Esme Rossouw, and her mentor, Munich Re’s head of property underwriting, Thabo Twalo. They’ve just concluded a nine-month mentorship as part of the Insurance Institute of Gauteng’s (IIG) Roots & Wings programme, with Esme graduating last week.

Plainly, it wasn’t the ideal year for forging such a relationship, with the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown thwarting face-to-face interaction – at least, for much of the time. The pair made do at first with video and WhatsApp calls, a poorer substitute, but when lockdown restrictions eased sufficiently, they took socially distanced hikes in nature together.

“[Video calling] worked surprisingly well but after the hard lockdown we decided it was important to meet face to face. It was Esme’s idea to include some kind of activity with our sessions and I think that was a brilliant idea. It made the discussions feel a lot more organic,” says Thabo.

He states he became a Roots & Wings mentor after joining the IIG, and discovered the programme: “I immediately wanted to get involved. I got three guys from my team to register to become mentees and I signed up to be a mentor. This year with Esme was my second year being involved with the programme.”

Thabo continues that he’s “a big fan” of the programme. “I think it is an important component of attracting, developing and keeping the best talent in the industry. As a mentor it is inspiring and motivating to work with people who are focused on getting better. It makes you want to get better yourself.”

During the mentorship, the pair covered a lot of ground: emotional intelligence, the wheel of life, leadership, effective listening, and how to adapt to different personalities and environments.

“I gained valuable insights in the industry, I have improved communication with employees and my staff – to approach in a softer tone, having a strong back and a soft front … I am more empowered and confident,” says Esme.

For his part, Thabo also took away a lot, saying: “Esme and I spent a lot of time talking about our approaches to different situations, and at the end of each talk I would always feel like she should handle a situation more like I would and, similarly, I should handle it more like she did. This is because we are very different, and that is why we can learn from each other.”

Thabo adds that he believes that everyone should have not one, but several mentors.

“Particularly with our busy schedules, we need time to think, reflect, prioritise and soundboard. A mentor provides a space to do this. A mentor is also able to share their own experiences, which can act as a guide or a lesson to the mentee, and because it comes from someone not involved in the situation, it has the power of objectivity,” he says.

For her part, Esme says Thabo showed her that bravery means acknowledging your fears – and then facing them.

“It’s important to get out of your comfort zone and face challenges head on. Thabo did SCAD freefalling with me, and that was brave. Thabo has my respect, as he showed me that it is OK to be afraid and vulnerable, but you have to embrace that feeling and rise up again,” Esme says.