Mentorship or friendship?

In employment and entrepreneurship training mentorship is often suggested as having a positive impact on the ‘trainees’. Often these mentors are supposed to carry considerable professional work experience. Or as Hartley (2004) puts it:

“Formal mentoring is a mutually beneficial relationship which involves a more experienced person helping a less experienced person to identify and achieve goals”

This makes kinda sense, no?! Why would a young person listen to a peer or adult without some experience and accomplishments under her or his belt? When I studied journalism back in university the only teacher that actually taught me something was a real journalist. I found it hard to accept advice from teachers who barely engaged in any serious reporting or documentary filming themselves

Recently a colleague of mine took a closer look at a entrepreneurship programmes in El Salvador and Colombia.
 Young participants involved in the programme pointed out that the experience of their mentors, who themselves are entrepreneurs, is greatly appreciated.

Yet visiting Salvador (Bahia, Brazil) shows that experienced mentors is not always necessary. In Salvador mentors are usually aged between 20 and 25 and university students. As such they do not differ significantly from most youth in the programme in terms of age (17-25). Most of them come from rather similar backgrounds, perhaps with the exception of the most vulnerable participants in the programme. 

A general video giving an overview of the project in Salvador named Pontes Para O Futuro

The mentors do differ somewhat from the mentees. For instance youth mentors  have managed to join a university programme, which in Brazil is challenging as enrollment for public universities is highly competitive and private universities can be costly (especially in times of economic and political crisis).

Using young mentors however allowed the programme to offer them an internship position (alongside their studies) which would not have been possible with mentors engaged in full professional employment with permanent contracts.

As a result mentors spend a large amount of their time at the college where the courses are being taught, very much available to the youth. Mentors have a weekly half-day session with the youth they accompany (around 30 now, going up to 60 in the next semesters) and often sit in and participate in classes as well. Another important characteristic was the comradery and mutual support among the mentors – I attended one of the goodbye ceremonies of one group and their mentor and the majority of students were crying there eyes out.

The programme in Salvador as a result could be seen more as one of support than traditional ‘mentoring’ or tutoring. According to this article by Chris Holland two models of mentoring can be found in the literature. “A restricted, functionalist model, where there is a formal distance between the learner and the mentor and where the focus is on learning outcomes rather than the learner as a whole person. The second is a relational model, where the learner is regarded as a valued equal who happens to have specific support needs, and where issues of respect and trust play a larger part.”

The approach used in Salvador clearly falls in the second category and deserves attention from those interested in employment and entrepreneurship programmes.

I willl leave you with a trailer of the beautiful documentary Keep on Keepin’ On. The mentorship model between a young and aspiring blind jazz pianist and a elderly legendary jazz trumpet player, is informal and one-on-one. Perhaps not very realistic in the context of development programmes but definitively inspiring and worth a watch.

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