A recent article by Success Magazine* focuses on successful mentoring programmes in the business sector. Although youth mentoring programmes in the community are sometimes disparaged as lacking clear value, professional mentoring programs are widely touted as being hugely valuable, especially by the businesses themselves. When a corporation that exists principally to generate profits speaks so highly about the value of mentoring, it speaks volumes about the benefits of mentoring programs generally.
So what has the business community learned about building a successful mentoring program, and more importantly, what implications does it have for youth mentoring programs?
First off, the article stresses that a mentoring program is not a replacement for good management and leadership, nor is it a substitute for development or training. Rather, a good mentor builds a relationship of trust where they can share their experience, insight, and help their mentee build connections. In the youth mentoring context, the clear parallel is that our mentors are not replacement parents; they are an additional trusted adult who will listen, share their wisdom, and help the child experience new activities.
Secondly, good mentoring programmes recruit mentors who are enthusiastic about the role – but who are also realistic about the time and energy that they will need to commit. In return, mentors should be provided with good quality training and ongoing support. This is important so that mentors have a clear understanding of their role and what boundaries should exist between them and their mentee. It’s also important to understand why people are applying to become a mentor. It’s fine if somebody wants to build their CV or to gain recognition – but they should also want to make a difference and be keen to take up the challenge of the role.
Finally, the most successful mentoring programmes take time and effort to make the best possible match between a mentor and mentee. To accomplish this, the program must take into account the experiences and interests of both. It is especially important to establish a quality relationship in the first few months, which can be done by starting with a formal structure and regular contact. At Friendship Works, we spend an enormous amount of effort on matching each child with the right mentor. We also establish a formal structure – regular and consistent meetings for a minimum of two years – so that the relationship has the chance to fully develop, become a valuable source of support for the child, and have a lasting impact.
In nearly every way, the key points highlighted by Success Magazine confirm the model that we have developed at Friendship Works over the past 30 years. We believe very firmly in the hallmarks of our model – such as the emphasis we place on long-term relationships, high quality matches, and professional training and support.
Our long-term vision for the future is to embed the concept of mentoring in the community so that children receive mentors in their community even without charities like ours. As one businessman in the article puts it, mentoring is not a separate programme in their company; it is part of the DNA of what they do. In the same vein, we hope to one day make mentoring part of our wider cultural DNA.
What do you think makes mentoring a success? We’d love to hear what you have to say.