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Harnessing the Potential of Young Leaders

Updated: May 30, 2023

As a workshop facilitator and coaching mentor with Evenings & Weekends Consulting, Mercy Ayesha Alohan-Eke creates opportunities for young leaders to thrive in their careers and within their communities.


Mercy's work is guided by their history of youth leadership, political activism, and community organizing, and by unique lived experiences which are rarely reflected in positions of power.


We asked Mercy a few questions about the values that they bring to their facilitation and mentorship work with Evenings & Weekends, and their own dreams for a healthier, more equitable sector.


Hey Mercy! Could you tell us a little about the skills and perspectives that you bring to your work with Evenings & Weekends?


I’ve been an active member of youth and student interest groups since I was 14, performing various roles in political and electoral campaigns in both my home of London, UK, and my new home of Tkaronto, Canada.


For me, community organizing is where my heart is. I have experience leading teams of volunteers and paid staff in non-profit, political, and governmental organizations with an emphasis on supporting youth to increase civic engagement. At 16, I was awarded as one of the country's Top 10 Make Your Mark Champions as I campaigned and advocated for students across the UK. In 2019, I was offered a Parliamentary Internship for my successful efforts to increase the youth vote for my local Member of Parliament during the 2019 UK General Election.

I'm passionate about creating accessible, equitable and inclusive environments within political spaces, because as someone with lived experience of surviving and overcoming homelessness as a youth, sexual assault, and mental health difficulties, I believe that the lived experience that young, marginalized folks can bring is insightful to elected officials and organizational leaders who often don't reflect those they intend to serve.


My wide-ranging experience supporting and advocating for under-resourced communities, and my lived experience, make my commitment to implementing anti-oppressive and liberatory frameworks stronger throughout my life and my work.


In Canada, I have continued to build on my commitment to community organizing. I have a wealth of experience in campaigning and lobbying for underrepresented groups of people, where I’ve led paid and voluntary staff of all ages, backgrounds, and languages. I have campaigned for racialized and Black candidates running for public office.


What excites you about working with the Evenings & Weekends team?

The range of expertise we have as a team, and how we come together to work toward our shared values, truly inspires me. The excitement comes from the ability we have collectively to move towards substantial change in this sector—from each of us doing our small part, one at a time.


This amazing network of people we have aren’t just folks that share my values, but are also more than willing to share their wealth of knowledge with others. When we are together, we spend most of our time sharing our learnings from our experiences and laughter from the depths of our stomachs—the joy that comes from our gatherings is something I never want to miss out on.


As a workshop facilitator and a mentor, what do you think goes into creating a space in which people feel comfortable discussing difficult or vulnerable topics?

Being willing to meet folks where they are and practising compassion in the way that we teach and listen is important. We are all complicated with our own sets of experiences, vulnerabilities, and wisdom. Seeing the humanity in folks, regardless of the beliefs or experiences that they hold in this current moment, contributes to creating a psychologically safer space when facilitating.


More importantly, knowing that as a facilitator, I am a guide for participants who are the ones who choose what space they want to exist in for that moment. Allowing participants to flow through the workshop as they feel comfortable encourages authenticity and brings out a greater breadth and depth of insight from participants.


What's an Evenings & Weekends project that you've worked on that you've found particularly meaningful? It always feels like an honour to create and hold a safer space for folks to share how they truly think and feel.


I felt this when I facilitated a focus group for Digital Public Square. Hearing from other Black folks about their concerns and hopes around our health systems. Being able to hold a space that encouraged complete vulnerability from folks is a great privilege and responsibility. Participants felt safe enough to share their fears, hope, and wisdom with me led to a focus group that contributed to significant changes in creating a more holistic approach to an important community resource regarding COVID-19.


What does mentoring mean to you?

Mentoring is a chance to build on the capacity of those who dare to lead in spaces where they often don't see themselves being leaders—but feel called to leadership regardless. The gift that one can give to another by cultivating and nurturing a person's call to leadership through the inevitable peaks and troughs of being a leader is a gift that will continue to give to our communities. This is a great gift that I've been incredibly grateful to receive myself as I have been guided through the internal and external conflicts that positions of leadership often bring.


I've always been passionate about harnessing the potential of young leaders from marginalized groups who have lived experience to best serve their communities. This lived experience is often absent from the leadership of not-for-profit and community organizations that serve marginalized groups the most. As a Mentor, I hope to support young leaders in navigating leadership in spaces where we often have to break down barriers to create spaces for ourselves and others like us to exist, lead and thrive in spaces that weren't made for us or our communities.


What are your hopes for the organizations that we work with? In your mind, what would a thriving sector look and feel like?

I hope that the organizations we work with will choose to share the gifts and teachings that we have given them, and commit to implementing these paradigms shifts into their long-term plans.


To thrive, we need a sector that chooses to lead with the values that we hope to share. Values such as being committed to listening and reciprocation within and outside of an organization—not just for the period when we are working together but for the long haul.

Organizations should also be prepared to experience changes in these plans and need to allow for the flexibility that might be needed in the (to some) yet new (to many) way of working. Because being committed to these values means embedding them in our work as well as our perspectives.

What do you find rejuvenating outside of work?

I often find myself digging deep into long trails of encyclopedic information about the stories of those who resisted before me. I find strength in knowing that standing by your beliefs has never been easy, but many before me had enough courage to do it regardless of the risks.


I’m always trying to find a time and place to skateboard. It’s a perfect way to release some of the inevitable heaviness from the work that we do. I always feel so good when I get a chance to feel the breeze and just coast.


 

Interested in pursuing mentorship with Mercy? Visit our coaching page and reach out!


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