Foto: David Meulenbeld

‘We women need to help each other take the next step’

Marjolein de Jong8 November 2022

VU Amsterdam professor of paediatrics Marceline Tutu van Furth and her wife, Anglican priest Mpho Tutu van Furth, have launched an online platform #ITOO where women can help each other with career issues. 

How did you come up with the idea for #ITOO?

Marceline began: „The medical journal The Lancet had a special edition:Advancing women in science, medicine and global health, in which Mpho and I wrote an article about how we can get more women to the top of the medical and scientific field. We think mentoring is one of the ways to achieve that. If every women in a certain position is prepared to act as mentor to a mentee, you achieve a snowball effect.

We decided we need to do something with this. That’s how the idea for an online e-mentoring programme originated, for and by women, where an algorithm is used to match you to someone. It’s like a dating app but then for mentors and mentees. We want to create a positive movement under the #ITOO flag, ‘I too’ help women. 75 women have joined so far."

Why together? 

Mpho continued: „We like doing projects together. We love each other and enjoy working together.’

Marceline began: „It’s not always easy. We’re both strong personalities, so there are sometimes too many captains on one ship. But fortunately we’re learning how to handle this better. And that such a creative process leads to something like this is fantastic. We’re currently at the point that we need investors to keep the platform running."

Which mentors were important for you?

Mpho continued: „I’ve had various mentors. Very formally within the church community, who gave practical tips, but also informally, such as my mother and father. They all posed good questions and helped me find my own answers.

I still remember when I ran the foundation’s (Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, ed.) first event. All the staff had worked really hard and the event went on until deep into the night. My father was there too and whispered in my ear: ‘Everyone’s done so well. It’s good to thank them. And don’t you think it’s a good idea to give them a day off?’ Of course, this was nice for the staff but it was also a good way to shape my leadership style, in which there should be space for generosity and gratitude."


Marceline began: „Somewhere in my career I had a male mentor who, during a meeting in which I explained everything I was doing said: ‘Why haven’t you asked to become professor?’ That was an eye-opener for me. I come from an academic environment. My father was a professor and I thought I knew how things worked. But in practice it’s the case that you have to ask for that next step yourself. It’s essential that you’re assertive and, if you’re not sure exactly what route you should take, it’s good to exchange ideas with someone about this."

Why do you think women are nervous about taking such a next step? 

Marceline began: ‘Taking a next step can be high-risk. You can only ask certain things, such as becoming a professor, once. Women prefer to avoid doing that. Many women also have a certain modesty that isn’t necessary. Men are much quicker to say: I can do that, I’ll do it, without having any diploma. A woman wants to have that diploma first. What’s that quote again, Mpho?’

„Men are confident and women are competent", added Mpho. 

Marceline began: „Exactly. You’re assessed on your self-confidence and not on your competence. And a mentor can give you more self-confidence."

Marceline Tutu van Furth studied medicine at VU Amsterdam, after which she became professor of paediatrics and has since worked as paediatrician at the Amsterdam UMC, VU University Medical Center location. She specialises in infectious diseases, like her father Ralph van Furth. 

Mpho Tutu van Furth is a pastor, author and speaker, and was director of the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation until 2016. This foundation manages the legacy of Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu and his wife, Leah Tutu. 

The couple lives in Amstelveen with their children from previous marriages. 

Take part in #ITOO. We need you as a mentor or mentee. Register here.