The power of mentorship: Opening doors and shaping leaders

February 14, 2024 | By Koyabi Mamam Nbiba

As a first-generation college student from a low-income family, graduating from Bates College in 2020 was a big deal for my parents and two younger sisters.

That year also marked the 100th anniversary of Benjamin Elijah Mays’ graduation from Bates College. Mays, who would become the sixth president of Morehouse College, one of the nation’s finest historically Black colleges and universities, was close to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who called Mays his "spiritual mentor" and "intellectual father." As we celebrate Black History Month, it's worth remembering Mays' life and how one person can shape the trajectory of another’s life — and even of an entire movement.

When I was a sophomore at an underfunded high school in New York City, my father played a significant role in setting me on the right path. When I had an opportunity to interview for a dental assistant role in midtown Manhattan, he came along with me to the interview. And at the end of the interview, he had an unconventional request for my future boss: "Treat my son like your own."

Dr. Jeff did just that. Thanks to him, I discovered the world of New England prep schools and ended up at the Hotchkiss School in Connecticut. Hotchkiss played a crucial role in preparing me to apply for admission to top universities, and ultimately led to me securing a spot at Bates. Dr. Jeff’s encouragement to dream beyond my imagination has been an invaluable gift. Over the years, he has been more than a former boss – he's been a mentor and a friend.

Photo credit: Andre D. Wagner 

While at Mastercard, Dr. Jeff’s influence lingered in my thoughts, motivating me to seek ways to create meaningful impact. After a year on the Diversity and Inclusion board with the Mastercard Young Professionals business resource group, I was ready to apply my learnings to a new opportunity.

Over the past two years, my involvement with another Mastercard BRG, Leading Employees of African Descent, has created impact beyond what I could have imagined. I've been the global finance chair for LEAD, and the program director for Uplift, LEAD’s mentorship program for Black men.

Last year, when I took charge of Uplift, my main objective was growth — and I succeeded, doubling the program in size from the pilot cohort. The program included over 30 colleagues from entry level to executive vice president and spanned 10 countries. Our closing survey was reassuring, with all participants saying the program met or exceeded their expectations, and satisfaction grew by 23% from the previous year. Equally inspiring was the discovery that participants planned to stay in touch with their mentor/mentee.

When I joined the global LEAD committee in 2022, my goal was to empower the members in our BRG's five chapters. I ended up helping develop a mentorship program that is not just about providing career advice – it focuses on building long-lasting relationships.

The truth is, you don't have to be part of a mentorship program to shape the paths of future leaders. Professionals should step up to mentor early and often. If that's not your preference, you can still make a difference by connecting others for mentorship where you see opportunities. Maybe that's how we can measure our legacy — by how many people we raise up along the way.

Koyabi Mamam Nbiba, Analyst, Sales, Mastercard North America