In our experience, members of the target group often react well to one-on-one interactions with an older peer. The success of these interactions seems to lie in a critical level of separation between the mentor and mentee – close enough to act as a real life role model, but far enough to avoid the messiness of friendship. There is a common base of shared experiences and goals, but with a stark gap in progress towards those goals. This common ground implies a shared vocabulary in which to discuss aspirations and the problems associated with them. Such conversations provide an easy gateway to discussing a wider range of issues, ranging from personal problems to professional conflicts.
It is the mission of the Helen Suzman Foundation to promote liberal constitutional democracy. There is an opportunity for promoting this mission in the current project. In South Africa today we see a dearth of value driven leadership, whether in the private or public sector. Through mentor training and workshop sessions with both mentors and mentees, the HSF has an opportunity to influence young leaders directly.
- To assist the target group in converting their potential into actual success, by developing and bolstering confidence through a mentorship programme.
- To promote value driven leadership through the mentor relationship and regular workshops.
The HSF will coordinate the programme. This implies finding mentees and mentors, matching them, monitoring the relationship and reporting to funders on the project’s progress. It is not a necessary feature of the project that HSF staff members participate in these relationships themselves.
The HSF will coordinate regular workshops for mentors and mentees. These will be discussion sessions which encourage the values of the foundation with a particular focus on leadership. They will also be opportunities for developing a network between the Foundation, mentors and mentees. Part of generating a successful support network will be making connections between the mentees themselves. The Foundation will utilise its social and economic capital to make connections for the mentees.
- The programme is aimed at late high school and early university students.
Candidates are identified by an intersection of circumstance and personality:
- Circumstance: We are targeting young people who are needy, but in environments which have provided enough support to form a base from which we can build. In practice this means struggling “Model-C” schools in cities or well run township schools. Other identifying features are: a lack of opportunities for advancement, no widespread history of advancement in family/community.
- Personality: We target students who have demonstrated leadership skills, merit and potential in their current contexts. The project does not aim to train a randomly selected group in leadership, but rather to nurture budding leaders and provide them with the support to transcend difficult circumstances.
Identifying potential mentees
- School: The schools themselves will be useful here. We will contact principals and ask them to assist us in identifying candidates who fit our criteria. Internal success markers at schools (leadership positions especially) are useful proxies.
- University: This is more difficult. We can leverage school networks retrospectively. We can also work through university clubs and societies.
Mentors will range in age and background, to suit the candidate mentees. However, in general we expect:
- They will be 20-30 years old, either midway through university (in the case of the youngest high school mentees) or having recently begun careers/graduate study (in the case of university mentees).
- They will be individuals who have demonstrated leadership and merit through a series of roles, achievements and successes.
- There is an inevitable element of self-selection to the process of finding mentors. It is therefore important to cast the net as wide as possible initially, as the first cohort will influence future selections.
Over the lifetime of the programme, we expect that mentees will naturally develop into mentors themselves. Skills and matching:
- Mentors will be trained in their role prior to beginning work with their mentees. This will include some basic training in life coaching, managing a mentor relationship, etc. We have yet to decide whether this requires professional input or whether we can handle it internally.
- We want to match mentors to mentees. This implies selecting pairs with common ground, be it common goals, backgrounds, experiences or simply location. This will influence the selection of both mentors and mentees.
Value proposition for mentors:
- Mentoring is a valuable leadership skill, and we anticipate that the skills training and experience in this area will constitute a draw card for potential mentors.
- Mentors will be paid a nominal fee per session.
The programme consists of two types of interaction: one-on-one mentoring sessions and workshops for the entire group.
The interactions which form the core of this programme are mentoring sessions. These sessions are free-form conversations, focused on any issues the mentee wishes to discuss.
These are opportunities for the Foundation to engage with both the mentees and mentors. Possible features of these workshops are:
- Leadership skills training.
- Opportunities for mentees to interact and workshop ideas of interest to them (e.g. through open space technology).
- Talks by inspiring people: leaders in business, politics, civil society.
This is an excellent forum for the Foundation to establish the ‘values’ content in the values based leadership it seeks to promote.
Our sponsor, HSBC, has indicated their willingness to host these sessions at their premises in Sandton.