In this guest blog post, Romy Krämer, former DO School Program Director Venture Lab, shares her learnings on what it takes to make mentoring a success and why becoming a mentor can open a new world of opportunity for both you and your mentee.
If you are lucky enough to have a mentor, you will know what I am talking about: that amazing feeling of having a trusted go-to person, someone who's there and always has a positive word of encouragement for you. A person that knows you well enough to also challenge you to reflect about yourself and think bigger.
Now imagine being a mentor for a young social entrepreneur who is in a completely different country, perhaps in Africa or Central America: sharing your skills and experience with someone who will inspire you with their unrelenting drive to benefit their community and share with you their own experiences and challenges. Someone who might need a word of encouragement and a different perspective every now and then to follow their dream of positively affecting their world.
Mentoring is an essential part of The DO School’s work. We bring together mentors with DO School Fellows in order to support them as they implement their social ventures around the world. Check out the mentees right here.
Over the last few years, we've learned a lot about what makes a good mentoring relationship and how important a good start is. We’ve put together some of our key learnings to help others ensure their mentoring relationships are built on a foundation of success.
Many mentors and mentees actually find it useful to set up a written document during their first meeting in which they define their relationship with a couple of rules that both parties commit to:
- discuss your expectations to the mentoring relationship (e.g. input you would like to receive/give, topics that are central to the mentoring)
- set a couple of rules of engagement (e.g. feedback rules)
- agree on the frequency of meetings (we recommend at least once a month) and forms of contact (Skype, Google+ hangout, other video conferencing rooms, phone, email)
- structure the arrangement of meeting times (e.g. plan a fixed set of appointments for a period of time such as 3 months, arrange the next meeting when finishing the previous one, agree upon an on-demand meeting schedule, …)
Most important, however, is recognition of the fact that a good mentoring relationship does need commitment, and some serious work, from both sides. Which also means that mentors should be as open to learn as much as their mentees - not doing so is missing a fantastic opportunity at the very least. That said, it is also very important that mentees realize the tremendous value of an outside perspective on their work or venture. Basically - at every stage of the relationship mutual acknowledgment and respect is key.
According to Matt, a recent MBA graduate and teacher at the University of Richmond, it’s about finding a new way to add value beyond his current job and profession. “Being a DO School mentor allows me to do just that. I can share my education and experience with social entrepreneurs doing great work on the ground."
Matt supported his mentee, Jacob from Kenya, to strategically focus his community venture and to introduce accounting practices. Matt says, "I was able to help the team see and understand the threat of rising costs against their slow revenue growth. I think we made a good team."
Photo: Jacob's Business Launch Party, 2013
Beyond giving something to Jacob, however, Matt also realizes the personal development aspect of mentoring. He found new motivation and learnt about a whole new side of business: "I have become an active participant in the field of social entrepreneurship. My eyes have been opened! There are so many great ideas just waiting to be developed. I am so glad I can help develop those ideas.” He is now mentoring his second DO School Fellow.
Who can become a mentor?
Mentors at The DO School are experienced individuals who invest a minimum of 2-3 hours per month over a period of about 9 months. They have specific knowledge and expertise that our fellows need and often also some relation to the local context their mentee is operating in.
In the past, our mentors have been very diverse. We have had a husband and wife team, both management consultants, who share responsibility for their mentee and always find the time to chat about him despite their busy schedules. Or the top-manager overseeing huge construction projects who was looking for a more meaningful project to apply his skills to. Or the marketing expert who draws inspiration from the unwavering drive with which her mentee started her social business despite her difficult circumstances.
If you are interested in joining our mentor database and finding out for yourself what it’s all about we would love to hear from you. Sign up here.
- Romy, former The DO School Program Director Venture Lab
Originally published July 31, 2014