How can we use innovation to support our mentoring programmes and each other?

Written by: Charné Tromp-Ahmed, Digital Community Manager

The YBI mentoring family has long been a vibrant community of mentoring practitioners who frequently engage with each other, share challenges and learnings, and provide support to their peers. We wanted to allow this community to continue to flourish and, building on the learnings from its existing foundations, we set out to develop an innovative solution to make these connections easier for our members. At this year’s Mentoring Masterclass, we had the opportunity to test some of our ideas with members from across the world.

From conversations with members, we knew that face to face events such as the Mentoring Masterclass provided an essential opportunity for members to engage, learn and collaborate in a dynamic environment. However, since attendance at these events can be costly, and is not always possible for all members to attend, and in the absence of regular face-to-face meetings, we set out to create a vibrant online community that would create more opportunities for member engagement.

We knew that members were communicating and sharing information via WhatsApp, email, Skype, the existing YBI Network Community and other channels, but we also knew that these channels were not delivering the complete ‘community experience’ that members yearned for.

The learning process

To help us achieve this goal, we teamed up with CAST (Centre for the Acceleration of Social Technology), a non-profit organisation and specialist partner in User Centred Design. We signed up to their intensive two month FUSE process, a technology accelerator helping non-profits to build scalable, user-centred, digital services.

We conducted user interviews with more than 30 members, reviewed user behaviours and identified some core user needs. And what did we learn?

We learnt that members want a central hub where they can manage their membership experience and have the ability to:

– share challenges and ideas and get advice from other members;

– engage and collaborate with other members;

– access information about other users and member organisations;

– share and access knowledge in a central place;

– find and share information about events; and

– easily navigate a online platform with a good mobile experience.

Innovation and Mentoring

Test, learn, refine

The next step was to develop some new concepts to address these user needs and we had the opportunity to test some of these concepts through paper prototypes (mock-ups) with members at the Mentoring Masterclass in London.

The session gave mentoring practitioners from different backgrounds the opportunity to input on three key areas that members identified as integral to the new online community:

      1. Engagement with other members (as practitioners with similar goals and values)
      2. Sharing knowledge, experience and new ideas with each other
      3. A central place to access relevant knowledge, useful tools and best practice thinking to help them in their roles

We shared prototypes related to these three key areas and, in discussion with members, we gained some valuable insights into how they might use these within their context and how we could make these concepts more useful or appropriate.

The vision and energy from members was overwhelming and we came away from the session with some great reflections and insights to ensure that the online community meets the needs of members and helps them to support them in their role.

Group exercise

Creating the ‘community experience’

The development of our online community has been a valuable opportunity to learn more about our members, but also to build digital capabilities within our team and enhance our approach to product design at YBI through User Centred Design.

We recognise that the future of the online community is much more than just an online platform for members to engage and access resources. It’s the ‘market square’ where individuals with a common goal come together to connect, share and inspire. But never mind what I think, here’s what our members have said:

“Being a part of the network gives us the opportunity to share experiences with other members. We have different needs, methodology, budgets, people, language, size, but we all share the same objective.” – Network Member, Europe

“Having the opportunity to connect with members who share similar challenges is important to me.” – Network Member, Africa

“The thing to feel close is not about how many kilometres apart we are, but to have common projects and see each other’s faces.” – Network Member, Europe

“Online events like the mentoring webinars spark conversations between mentoring managers, which is the beauty of the community.” – Network Member, Oceania

“I want to help other members grow and share what I know to help them succeed.” – Network Member, Latin America


The Annual YBI Global Mentoring Masterclass

Over the past 9 years, YBI has supported 41 member organisations around the world to start, build or strengthen their mentoring programmes for young entrepreneurs. YBI’s community of mentoring practitioners is sector-leading, with over 14,000 volunteer business mentors who inspire and empower the young entrepreneurs they support to reach their personal and professional potential.

In 2017, the third Global Mentoring Masterclass supported by Accenture, took place in London between 9th and 13th of October. Throughout the week, we celebrated the breadth of diversity in YBI’s network, with 34 mentoring Programme Managers attending from across the network: Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America and North America.

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