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by Tracy Wright, Resource Sharing Project Technical Assistance Provider, North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault

Originally published in ReShape: Personnel Transitions (Winter 2010)

Recently, I celebrated my five-year anniversary working in the anti-sexual violence movement and with the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault (please hold all applause until the end). In addition to being excited about this milestone of sorts, I began to reflect on how and why I continue to do this work. The answer is simple, sound mentorship. For the purpose of this article, the conglomerate of allies, visionaries, advocates and survivors who serve as my mentorship circle will be coined as investors. Essentially that’s what they are. They cultivated a relationship, believed in a product’s potential, invested time and resources and took risks. Although they don’t anticipate fiscal gains, these investors do require a sound return in work product, ethics, advocacy and sustainability. Keep in mind that working with these investors is no easy feat because they can be overbearing. However, as a product, one has to grasp that their tactics are coming from a place of wanting to see kinetic energy transform to potential energy and that energy manifest into social change. If you, as a product, are in a place where you want to seek investors and their buy in, here are five things I think are key in merging investor and product.

Time Commitment. Just as anti-oppression work is a lifelong process so is mentorship. Both entities have to enter into the realm of mentor and mentee with an understanding that ideals and needs shift but time can’t be a factor in doing the greater good.

Critical Thinking. Don’t be misled that mentorship is a utopian relationship. For me, most of that time is spent correcting mishaps, shaping thoughts and sharing information all of which are vital to leadership development. Challenging questions are the core of preparing the product to respond to mistakes and streamlining processes.

Push Past Personal Boundaries. Five years ago to say I was timid and shy would be an understatement. Today I present, spearhead projects and even write articles. Never bragging but indeed humbled by the turn of events. With every opportunity afforded me, I enter into it knowing that I would not be in a place to be receptive of it without my investors. They pushed me past my constraints through esteem building, access to professional development and believing in my brand.

Honesty. My, aren’t my investors honest! When I do something right they are the first to praise. When I make a mistake they are the first to correct. That consistency is appreciated. At first it was a tough adjustment because I took their constructive criticisms personally.

As I grew as a person, I became more receptive to my investor’s firm hand and insight to do and be better.

Willingness to Grow. Investors, or at least the good ones, want to see their product grow and flourish. This is the same for mentors. The relationship is entered into with growth at the forefront. Growth in the form of a willingness to learn, take risks, make mistakes and be the best product possible.

I am no household name. I am sure I won’t end the epidemic of sexual violence. What I do know is that my product is sound and I am in a good place to do good work. Now that I think about it, that is all my investors wanted from me initially. Now I have the task of seeking out products, ensuring they are planted in good ground to change the world; that in itself exceeds anything money can buy.