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MENTORnetwork – our back story

Tue, Nov 4, 2014

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Why don’t more entrepreneurs and professionals access the support of mentors who want to help?  It’s not for a lack of wanting the help.   A recent Women in Leadership Foundation study found that mentoring is important to 87% of Canadians, but only 19% have one.  In 2009 when I set in search of a mentor, it took me five LONG months to find one.

Around the time I was searching for a mentor, I was on eHarmony, looking for a date.  It struck me that the “eHarmony of mentoring websites” would be a great way to solve my problem.  The primary difference was that dating has a socially well-defined set of expectations – mentorship didn’t.

Two years later I reflected on the difference my mentor had made for me and the challenges I had finding him.  In that reflection, I noticed a number of gaps in the process and the need for a more common understanding of what is mentorship.  As I looked at starting a business to solve the problem of finding mentors, I realized that the solution wasn’t as simple as creating a product or service.  My company would need to contribute to a much broader conversation and movement towards building ecosystems that support mentorship.

Taking on social innovations require, as one of my mentors Patrick Combs likes to say, “the patience of a saint”.  In my experience, it’s not a straight forward planning process—and involves a lot of moving parts.

Prior to launching MENTORnetwork as business in 2012, I was actively working in the mentorship space through my volunteer initiatives.  I organized a national conference for Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs, delivered a workshop called “How to Find a Mentor”, created a program called Mentor2Lead through JCI Toronto, and blogging on my own experiences of engaging mentors.

This volunteer activity was fueling my passion, but my day job was paying the bills.  My two competing priorities stretched me pretty thin.  Then, a unique opportunity presented itself to unify my focus.  I presented a concept to the Ontario Centres of Excellence for an event to tell the story of entrepreneur mentorship in the province at their Discovery conference.  I was prepared for it to be a volunteer labour of love, but was fortunate to land a three-month paid contract to produce “The World’s Largest Business Mentoring Event” .

One door lead to another and this spring, I was able to create a plan to bring my vision of the “eHarmony of mentoring websites” to fruition, with a new platform called MENTORup.  We’re creating a collaborative mentor network between small business centres, chambers of commerce and regional innovation centres.

I can now see the seeds of a culture of mentorship being cultivated.  Companies, Associations and Schools are making mentorship programs a core pillar of their learning and development program.  Business leaders like Richard Branson and Reid Hoffman are talking about the critical role mentors have played for them.  Initiatives like the Canadian Mentorship Challenge (www.mentorshipchallenge.ca) are elevating the conversation about what mentorship is and the role it plays in our communities.

My favorite quote from Soren Kierkegaard is, “Life is lived forward, understood looking back”.  I can now see how all of the puzzle pieces I created volunteering over the past fourteen years, are creating a complete picture inside my business.  Feeling the winds of cultural change helped me take a leap of faith, turning MENTORnetwork into a fulltime business in the summer of 2012—and now there is literally no turning back.

This article was originally published by the Trico Foundation: http://tricofoundation.ca/the-meaning-the-money-in-mentorship-by-jeremy-okrafka/

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