October 11, 2016

An Ignite Mentoring education

An Ignite Mentoring education

By Ilona Quahe, October 2015

It’s widely accepted that a good education is crucial for people to have opportunities and a chance of success in their lives. The unfortunate reality, however, is that the educational experience of young people in Australia still varies so significantly between the most and least privileged areas. In seeking to increase support for young people at low socioeconomic area high schools, I created Ignite Mentoring in 2011 (with a team that included fellow Perth Shaper, Grace Megroz).

The process of creating an organisation from scratch and building it into one with roughly 90 university student volunteers who commit to meet students on a regular basis was a journey in itself. In fact, it was one of the most educational experiences I’ve had. Here are a couple of things
I learnt along the way about how to create the outcomes you seek.

1) Know your weaknesses and be genuinely open to feedback

Truly knowing and acknowledging your weaknesses is a lot harder than it sounds. Your perception of yourself is naturally distorted. It’s hard to look at anything objectively when you’re so directly involved. But I know I’m the most effective when I understand my limits. I’m also the least effective when I don’t recognise them until later.

One of the best discussions about leadership I’ve been part of was one where people openly discussed what they were bad at. It was enlightening to realise that even very capable people whom I greatly admired couldn’t do everything well. When you recognise what

you’re not good at, you can then get other people involved who are good at it, or choose to work on it yourself.

2) Choose to be constructive

Different people can respond to similar situations in very different ways. Some people, when presented with a challenge, see all the things that might be hard and discuss reasons why it won’t work. Other people just create a path forward. Even if you’re naturally inclined to see roadblocks, you can consciously decide to be constructive and make things happen.

3) Empathy is important

One teacher whom Ignite Mentoring worked with told me that her students were initially very apprehensive about meeting their mentors. Many of her students were from refugee backgrounds and the teacher said they felt embarrassed by their limited English. Her students told her “we don’t want the mentors to come, they’ll laugh at us”.

Once the mentors arrived, however, things changed. The students realised that the mentors passed no judgment, were genuinely interested in meeting them and had an underlying respect for their individual stories. The teacher said her students ultimately ended up asking excitedly about when the mentors were next coming in.

That’s what empathy is about – respecting and seeking to understand where others are coming from. It’s key to connecting with people from all walks of life. ‘Hard’ skills and knowledge are important. But whatever the endeavour, you will need to get a variety of different people on board to succeed. Empathy is an important tool for creating that connection.