Guest Post by Arundhuti Gupta
Inspired by her own mentors, 2011 Fellow Arundhuti Gupta founded Mentor Together to give Indian youth mentoring experiences that are democratic and empowering. Mentor Together works in the cities of Bangalore, Mysore and Pune with a community 1-1 mentoring model. This year, Mentor Together is on track to make 300 mentor/mentee matches.
"I never thought I’d have a mother after losing mine." This was what one of our Mysore mentees said about her relationship with her mentor in a pre-closure meeting. When our Mysore coordinator Smitha told me about this, it was one of those moments where you feel immensely happy and then sad the next moment.
Anyone who is familiar with our work knows that building a relationship is really the end-game of Mentor Together. When we have a mentor with a deep connection with his/her mentee, positive outcomes are guaranteed. Positive relationships stir a natural yearning to be happy and do good. While Smitha's comment demonstrated this, I was sad because our mentee was reflecting on her year of mentoring as her mentor was moving from the formal relationship (and the intensity of meetings that go along with it) to a more informal one. I have always struggled with questions of closure - what next for this mentee? Will things regress for her? Have we made her dependant?
I have a more positive theory on closure: closure is actually one of the most important things in mentoring, because without it, a formal mentoring relationship will never get the chance to become a lifelong relationship.
What do I mean by that? There’s always a period of intensity in mentoring, where a close relationship and ‘tipping point’ experiences will bring about positive development in a mentee. That intensity will go away, but in that ebb the mentee has space to reflect on who they are and make empowered choices. Those choices will actually bring a mentor and mentee closer, in a new kind of relationship that is more equal.
When I was 20 and trying to figure out how I could do more for my city and community, I met Dr. Rajeev Gowda very randomly at a conference. He had a lot of ideas on youth empowerment that he wanted to get off the ground immediately, so I joined him with some others to make them a reality. Those were heady experiences. I was supposed to join Goldman Sachs in their graduate program, but took some time off to do career exploration events around Bangalore. It was a period where Dr. Gowda mentored me closely by pushing me to expand my leadership skills.
Eventually I joined the working world as a bank employee. I felt suddenly cut off from my anchor, my mentor. I finished a year at work and went on to graduate school in the UK, which again further separated me from my original mentoring experience. In that year, I evaluated the things I had experienced after finishing college - volunteer work, work in a bank, and graduate studies in finance. The experience of leading something that helped young people was the most cherished of them.
I started working on the blueprint of a youth mentoring NGO with friends in Manchester, and came back to start it in September 2009. I spoke to Dr. Gowda about my plans soon after I came back and he was surprised that I had decided against the corporate path so early into my career. I asked him to sign on with me as co-trustee because mentoring was something we had ideated on together when we first started the career fairs. He readily agreed.
A research grant that Dr. Gowda raised in 2010 helped me do some very important early work in understanding the field of youth mentoring. The experience was different from when he first mentored me. I made decisions independently and he helped me as a peer because he saw value in them. Our relationship continues to grow to this day.
I’m going to Mysore in a couple of days and I know I’m going to see some mentees very worried about their formal mentoring coming to a close. I’m going to tell them that when I moved away from my first formal mentoring experience, I realized I had it in me to actually start Mentor Together. I can’t wait to see what they do!
This post originally appeared on Arundhuti's blog Mentortogether Logs.
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Learn more about Arundhuti's mentoring philosophy and the work of Mentor Together: