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Why a Formal Mentorship Program?

April 11, 2022

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Jessica Walker

Senior Manager, Convenings, US

There are many keys to success, but one thing that experts, skilled practitioners, and maestros agree on is that mentorship is critical. Last year, Malikkah Robbins, Humentum’s previous Senior Manager of Convenings, launched a mentorship program to provide space for fostering growth, skills, experience, and careers among our members. With Humentum’s focus on building the skills and competencies of local and international NGOs, we realized that supporting individual staff members was a logical step in creating an effective, capable next generation of development professionals. I was also interested in keeping the program going because I’ve had amazing mentors who have taught me important skills, opened up opportunities, and encouraged me to dream bigger than I could have imagined.

Key aspects of a mentorship program 

  • Connection
  • Consistency
  • Compassion

In our series this week, you’ll see how these aspects were integrated into the first round of our mentorship program.

Connection is invaluable because it strengthens networks among different organizations in the sector and creates channels for sharing lessons learned, creating partnerships, and enhancing systems. Humentum provided the initial connection by introducing the mentors and mentees, but they were the ones that built deep, lasting connections while learning from one another. Additionally, with in-person activities limited, virtual mentorship has provided an alternative for our members to network and build stronger sector-wide relationships.

Consistency was expected of our mentors and mentees and we’re building even more of that into round two of the program. Our mentoring pairs meet at least once a month, and this regular, consistent meeting helps them build the trust needed to open up about goals, insecurities, failures, and hopes for their careers. Consistency provides structure, enabling participants to prepare ahead of time, build expectations for their conversations and relationships, and balance work and relationship building.

Compassion might be the most important aspect to build into a successful mentorship program – and the most difficult. Compassion is the key to connection and a sense of responsibility to one another that encourages consistency. Compassion from more experienced professionals is instrumental for younger colleagues to gain skills, learn from mistakes, and build confidence in their careers. For those experienced professionals, compassion from their mentees can help them remember the optimism they started their career with, better understand the concerns and habits of a new generation, and flex their leadership skills for further career growth.

With these three characteristics and the experiences of our first pairs, we have adapted round two of the program for more success:

  • Connection – There are more scheduled group calls to check in with the pairs and build a community among program participants. This also will be encouraged through an online forum.
  • Consistency – We will continue to encourage participants to meet regularly and participate in discussions on Humentum Connect to share resources and skills throughout the program. This will also help build connections because mentors and mentees will be able to develop relationships with more than just their partner; they’ll be able to interact with the whole cohort.
  • Compassion – We know that NGO professionals are in the sector because they are compassionate, caring individuals; with the group calls, online forum, and structured resource sharing, we will build a community of trust and learning so that the cohort can grow together.

Informal vs. formal mentoring

My own mentorship experiences have been informal, but they’ve had no less impact on my work and the path I’ve taken in the sector. At the time, connection was easy to manage because I shared an office and/or a city with my mentors, and the pandemic was far from our imagination. One of my mentors embedded their guidance in every conversation so that it never felt like intentional mentorship; it was simply how our relationship was structured. The consistency with which they faced work situations and shared recommendations within their own working style demonstrated good mentorship and management.

It also showed me that what you do repeatedly becomes the way you do things, so I’ve been conscious of starting the way I hope to continue. My mentors were not only consciously looking for ways to guide me, but the subconscious ways they considered my situations, personality, and goals highlighted their natural and intentional compassion. While I’ll forever appreciate the informal guidance they’ve given me, I know that we might have approached things a bit differently had we had a bit more structure or intentionally focused on mentoring during some of our conversations.. That’s one of the reasons I was eager to continue offering the structure and formal commitment of Humentum’s program to our community.

What’s next?

In building on Malikkah’s initial program, our goal was to create more space for conversation and sharing outside of the pairs, enable wider participation from member organizations, and provide the framework participants wanted and needed for effective mentorship. The real work, though, is done by the incredible individuals who are willing to share their hopes and challenges with someone they’ve only just met – which you’ll see demonstrated in this week’s series.

While we continue to receive feedback and evaluate the mentorship program, I’m excited to see what round two accomplishes. This year, the program grew from 12 pairs to 40 and represents more than 15 countries and at least three languages. I can’t wait to see what they accomplish together!

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