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Tips & tricks for a great online mentoring experience

In the past few weeks I had the opportunity to be a mentor to 4 great teams in the Thought for Food (TFF) Challenge (check out my experience HERE). After being a mentee in other online programmes and discussing in several networks on how a good mentoring programme should look like, I can give some inside tips & tricks for a great mentoring experience.The organization that is developing a mentoring programme should take this into consideration:- A mentoring programme should be constructed solely on very clear objectives. Do not create a mentoring programme to “enhance the abilities of mentees” or “help students learn more about a specific field”. It must have a focus (ex. develop a project proposal) within a certain field of expertise (in food security) with precise milestones (for which in the first week a summary must be written and by the third week a draft proposal must be done) and with a clear deadline (to be completed in 2 months) and deliverables (through a submitted written report and a video pitch).- The organization must NOT impose the type of communication or frequency through which the mentoring process would take place (Skype, phone, Google Hangouts, emails, Facebook chats etc.). Depending on the technical capability of both mentors and mentees and their availability, the type and frequency of communications should be left to the discretion of the participants.- The organization should only provide a framework within which the mentoring process will take place without intervening in it. But, if needed, it must be prepared to offer any kind of support necessary (technical, logistics, scientific etc.).The mentor, when engaging in this process, should be aware of the following:- Most times, a mentee has high expectations from the mentor, considering him/her as a leader in that specific field. Under this consideration, the mentee, without realizing, will ask from advice on whether an idea is good or bad. The mentor should refrain itself on providing his/her own ideas on a certain project. His/her role is to provide guidance on improving the mentors process of thinking and developing that idea. If this guidance will lead the mentee to reconsider the idea is part of another discussion.- A mentor is not a scientific advisor or consultant on a project presented by the mentee. Although you are an expert in your field, your role in the mentoring programme is not of providing consultancy in that field, but of providing guidance on a process. This might require you to research new fields, ask for help or tapping into knowledge from fields you previously worked in. You should start the “mentoring experience” by learning as much as possible about the mentee and the idea proposed in order to see what knowledge you have on the subject and what knowledge you need to gain.It is “Ok” to say: “I will answer later to your question after I will research it a little bit better“.The mentee should NOT be a follower:- When talking to the mentor, the mentee should “annoy” him/her as much as possible with questions. Any kind of question is good and welcomed. You should NOT listen and take for granted what the mentor is saying. Question everything, take in every information you receive and use it.- When developing your agenda, if the mentor says “your idea is bad” or “you should change your idea”, you should change your mentor (not kidding). A mentor should encourage the creative process and ALL ideas and NOT impose any ideas. The mentee should be careful also about the information that the mentor provides. If this is contradictory to the information that he/she already has available, the question of validity of sources may arise.- The mentee should also be its own mentor. You should not only follow the advices of your mentor, but also learn from the questions you ask him/her. As you know, “learning by doing” is the best way to do it. That is why mentoring is such a great process. You are able to learn both from a great professional and from yourself. I personally call mentoring “mirroring” because it allows you to see yourself through the mentor`s eyes.One last tip for everyone in an online mentoring programme:Organizations aren`t GOVERNMENTS, mentors aren`t DICTATORS and mentees aren`t THE PEOPLE. They are all in this together. If you want to create a great mentoring experience, you need to make sure that organizers, mentors and mentees become friends, not only participants in a programme.