A source of advice, an inspirational figure or just a listening ear… mentors can be all of these and more to young people trying to make their way in the world.

Our South African business, SAB, understands the important role mentors can play in helping youngsters stay on the straight and narrow. That’s why the company has created the 18+ Be The Mentor program, enabling ordinary people to share their life lessons with young mentees who might otherwise be at risk from negative outside influences.

Watch SAB’s documentary on mentor Ta'Siga.

The program was recently refreshed in a campaign called “Be Part of the Change” (#BeTheMentor) and its primary focus is on helping under-18s say no to alcohol. Using this as a starting point, SAB also encourages the mentoring relationship to inspire young people to set goals and work towards them, helping them to realize their full potential.

The initiative recognizes that under-18s can sometimes find it difficult to ‘connect’ with older generations and to take advice from them on various issues including the harmful effects of underage drinking. To counter this, it aims to attract mentors who are only a little older then the mentees, but who have still earned respect for what they have achieved; are able to speak in a language that resonates; and can share life lessons that are still very fresh.

As 27-year-old mentor Thato Ponse puts it: ‘As part of the youth, I know the challenges and peer pressure that comes with it. I’ve been there and done that.’

As well as having its own dedicated microsite, the program has been heavily publicized on social media, including Twitter (via the #BeTheMentor hashtag), Instagram and Facebook.

Here are stories told by individual mentors that were published on Facebook earlier this year.

  • A quick chat with mentor Onthatile.
  • Growing up, Zimkitha never had a mentor. That’s why she knows what an impact they can make, and why she is so passionate about being one for her mentees.
  • For Nokuphiwa, it’s not just about being a light bearer for her mentees, but passing on the light to them so they can be a light unto the world.
  • Another quick catch up session with Kgatli. He spoke about his reasons for mentoring.

So far the program is working. In the first phase, more than 66% of the appointed mentors confirmed that their mentees were already consuming alcohol; that number since halved to 33%. Among the 53% of mentees (which included new mentees and some from the previous phase) who were partaking in underage drinking in the second phase of the program, there was a 91% decrease in alcohol consumption.

Meanwhile, the mentors have found the opportunity to help others be an inspiration in their own lives, with 100% reporting that they have encouraged their peers to get involved.

BeTheMentor is part of an ongoing drive by SAB – through the 18+ Campaign – to tackle underage drinking. Since it was launched in 2015, the campaign has generated massive interest and discussion within South Africa. In particular, it has encouraged many South Africans to take a stand against underage drinking by making an online pledge to be part of this movement. The refreshed program, whose aim is to reach more people than it did in the previous phase and as a result positively impacting more youngsters, was launched at the beginning of June.

The 18+ Campaign follows a highly successful outreach program called You Decide, which was created by SAB in partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry, the National Youth Development Agency and provincial departments of education. That program has reached more than half a million South African schoolchildren thus far, and inspired a popular reality TV series, Future Leaders which will go on air with its fifth season later in the year.