01: Getting started - Mapping your context

No two mentoring programs will be identical. Think about any mentoring programs you know of. While there may be similarities, each program is likely to be unique to its specific situation, and to have been developed to address a specific set of objectives. This module will help you identify your own goals, objectives, guiding principles, and practical context, and understand how these can inform your decision to run a mentoring program.

After reading this section you should:

● understand why you’re choosing mentoring and what it will help achieve

● know whether mentoring is the right approach for you to take

● understand your institutional environment and how this may affect your approach

● have an idea of who will take part in the program

● identify your mentoring program’s objectives, values, and principles.

Key questions to ask yourself

  1. Why are you considering running a mentoring program?

  2. How will mentoring help achieve your objectives?

  3. Are you running this program for or in association with an organisation, network, or event?

  4. Who will be your potential mentees and mentors, and how will they benefit from mentoring?

  5. What are the values and principles that influence your approach to mentoring?

1.1 What are some different mentoring approaches?

There are many reasons why you might want to run a mentoring program. Mentoring can support professional and career development through the transfer of knowledge, skills, and networks. Mentoring can be a way to excite and encourage people to become more active in their sectors and support young people to become leaders in their fields. The goal of a mentoring relationship can be as broad as empowering the mentee to develop personally and professionally, or as specific as providing business advice and start-up support for a specific project.

However, mentoring is just one of many ways that you can achieve outcomes such as those listed above. Before investing your time and resources into developing a mentoring program, you need to be certain it’s the right approach for you.

Think about why you are considering mentoring. Are you responding to a particular need in your community, network or organisation? What would be the benefit of establishing mentoring relationships in this situation? Is mentoring the best – or only – approach, or are there other ways you could achieve your objectives?

1.2 Know your audience: Who is the mentoring program for?

People are at the heart of a mentoring program; mentoring, at the most basic level, is about a supportive relationship between two or more people.

If you are thinking about running a mentoring program, chances are you have thought about who this program would be for. You might have a very specific audience in mind, such as a particular farmers’ network, or a broader audience, such as “international forestry students”.

In many cases, a mentoring program starts with a group of potential mentees. In others, the initial driver for running a program may be having a group of interested potential mentors. Regardless, understanding the needs and motivations of the potential participants is important in order to define the objectives and approach that a mentoring program will take.

1.3 Mapping how mentoring can help you achieve your objective

One of the ways to determine which approaches will help you achieve your long-term objectives is to create a Theory of Change. A Theory of Change is a way to describe how and why a desired change is expected to happen in a particular context.

To develop a Theory of Change you start with a long-term goal and work backwards to identify where you want to go, the route you will take to get there and why certain milestones are necessary steps in the path you will travel.

For example, your long-term objective may be “improved youth livelihoods in Ghana”. If one of the outcomes to get there is “young people feel more confident and supported to grow in their field of expertise” then you may decide that mentoring is an approach worth investing in.

Consider: What has to change if the long-term goal is going to happen, and why is that a necessary step in getting to your long-term goal? Answering this question helps you avoid doing things that are good, but don’t get you where you want to go. Repeat this process until you have identified all the necessary steps to get you from where you are to where you want to be.

Here is a website that guides you through preparing a Theory of Change. You can find an example Theory of Change for an event-based mentoring program in the Resources section of this module.

1.4 Know your situation: opportunities and constraints

It is important to think about the context in which you will be running a mentoring program. Will it be confined to a particular organisation (such as a university or company), or will it be for people studying or working in a particular sector more broadly (e.g. agriculture or forestry)? Will you partner with an organisation, network, or event to run your mentoring program?

Each of these situations is different and will affect how you design and implement your program. What opportunities and constraints are associated with your situation? For example, do you need to consider how the situation influences the potential pool of applicants; what funding and in-kind resources might be available; preferences and opportunities for different forms of communication; the type of support mentees might need? You could think of these as boundaries that frame the focus of your approach to designing your program.

1.5 Know yourself: values and principles

Values are things that we think are important, and that guide the way we live our lives: our priorities, how we make decisions, how we interact with those around us. Designing, implementing, and coordinating a mentoring program will involve many decisions, from who will participate to how you will look for funding; from how you will support mentees and mentors to how you will measure success of the program. Having a clear idea of the main values for the mentoring program you are planning will help guide this decision-making process.

Many organisations and networks also have a set of defined values that relate to their overarching vision and mission. If you are working with, or looking for support from, an external organisation, you’ll want to make sure that your values and objectives fit with theirs. Being able to show how mentoring is aligned with a potential funder’s values and objectives will also be helpful for arguing your case for support (see Module 3 – Finding resources)

It is important to decide on the guiding principles for your mentoring program. This will not only help you make decisions about the approach and design of your mentoring program, but will also help you identify and negotiate with partners and potential funders.

Think of your principles as statements that summarise your approach to mentoring. This should directly relate to the values and objectives you have now identified.

For example, if you or your organisation values knowledge sharing and teamwork, a principle could be “we encourage collaboration not competition”. If one of your main objectives is to support and empower mentees to become leaders in their field, your principles might include “we listen to mentees” and “everything we do empowers mentees”.

Take action!

  • Use the context map to map out your situation. Keep this with you as a key reference as you continue through the process of planning a mentoring program.

  • Try mapping out a Theory of Change for your long-term objective and assess whether/where mentoring fits into that.

  • Write down your key values and objectives relating to mentoring.

  • Draft a statement of principles for your mentoring program.