You keep hearing about the advocacy of mentoring in Europe. But what exactly is this advocacy? What can be changed with mentoring the way it stands right now? Sometime back, we had a brief conversation with Fiona Soler, one of the most vital members of our advocacy commission. Fiona has been one of the key players in advancing the advocacy of mentoring in Europe. She is very familiar with the challenges that mentoring is facing here in Europe.
We got to know Fiona and her work with mentoring to understand why her voice in mentoring advocacy should matter. She confessed that until starting mentoring work with AFEV in France, she was not aware of mentoring and its impact on our communities. It was only during her mentoring work she discovered the enormous power of mentoring organizations which inspired her to take mentoring to the next level here in Europe. Back then AFEV operated with a huge network of 52 mentoring offices in France each with its different objectives, activities, and ways of mentoring. She recognized the need to homogenize and stabilize the practices of this huge network and worked with AFEV to bring together these mentoring practices, not very different from what the ECEBM is working towards through the advocacy of mentoring in Europe. Finding out about the European Center 3 years ago made her rethink mentoring and its advocacy. Up until that point mentoring in France was much different from the way how it exists now. They introduced the word mentoring in France to clearly define the work and objectives of French mentoring organizations, which helped open a lot of doors to advance mentoring in France.
Mentoring is still a developing field in Europe, and many governments and policymakers are not yet fully convinced about its benefits to European society. This makes it difficult for mentoring practitioners and organizations to collaborate and get the support they need to be involved in community growth and development. “For me mentoring in Europe is still young comparing to the US. Why not before (need for mentoring advocacy) is I did not know it”. There is still much work to do in advancing the mentoring field in Europe; map the field of European mentoring, mobilize people in favor of mentoring and engaging mentoring practitioners. While mentoring is in no way a magical tool that can solve our problems, it must be a complimentary tool inside European public policies so as to make the most effective impact. According to Fiona, the advocacy of mentoring needs working at several levels. The local level is very important as most of the action happens here and where funding and support is needed the most. This will require communicating the needs and benefits of mentoring to governments so as to obtain the proper funding for these mentoring programs. And to best influence, the local governments of the nations, the need for mentoring and its advocacy should be promoted on the European level. It must be shown as complementary and supporting to the several public policies which these governments have in place to help their people in need. Thus,a need for mentoring at its advocacy in Europe has been identified,to obtain the required support from government and policymakers and give mentoring the attention that it deserves based on its impact on European communities.
It is very clear that there is a need for mentoring in Europe and its advocacy to gain governmental and institutional support and funding. The first step is the advocacy for mentoring within the mentoring community and make the European communities understand the need for mentoring and its benefits to the people. “We need time to gather the mentoring community together, make them realize they are not alone, and make them realize there is a huge mentoring community waiting for them”. This was a huge step she took with the French mentoring organizations some years back, and she believes that the same must be done for the rest of Europe.
The advancement of mentoring in Europe makes even more sense these days. Communities and people in Europe have been facing a number of crises over the last few years. It started with the economic crisis, and then the migrant crisis, a work crisis, and now the pandemic crisis. These crises have led to a lot of inequalities in European society where vulnerable people are suffering even more than ever before. This is leading to a lot of polarization in several sectors of our society causing a rift between the people. Inequality is growing rapidly in France and the rest of Europe. People are feeling down and lost in this current climate and in many of these situations, they could use the help of mentors. We need those who stand by them, mentors them, and helps them look forward to a brighter future. We need to support each other and work towards building this community for a better future.
The development of the mentoring field in Europe is facing a number of challenges. It needs more time to be comprehended so that the benefits and impacts can be understood by European and national institutions. “It needs figures, it needs stories and it needs to create an impact”. Fiona believes that we are at an exciting stage in this journey where people are interested in mentoring and that governments are beginning to see mentoring positively. There is a need for mapping the mentoring field in Europe; to present the scale of mentoring in Europe and how many mentor-mentee relationships are there in Europe. There is a need for a common goal in the message for its advocacy. Mentoring organizations need to support each other and organize themselves and present the right information to send a clear message to policy-makers in Europe.
“Mentoring should be a right to everyone who needs it and should have the right to ask for a mentor”. This is the future Fiona sees about mentoring in Europe. This will require support from the local governments, from Europe, and all the agencies who can connect mentoring to their agendas. She hopes that in 5 years, mentoring is recognized as a positive tool to fight social injustice and inequalities. Additionally, the European Center is recognized as an important European agency, responsible for assessment and consultation on policy actions on mentoring. But to get there, “we need researchers, we need common goals, and we need other aspects which can lead us to that”. The advocacy actions are one of those aspects.
But what has brought Fiona a lot of joy working as a mentor? What gives her the drive to work in mentoring and its advocacy? For her, it is something very small but immensely meaningful. It is the sense of building a successful and fruitful mentor-mentee relationship. When a child acknowledges the mentor as theirs and knowing that he or she can trust and rely on this mentor. To Fiona, the formation of these mentor-mentee relationships is the central success story. It is the sense of realization that the mentor is there for them. That they have a sanctuary where they can choose what they want, be who they want to be, learn to be better, and can succeed. Your mentor is here to help you and you’ll be fine!