Gathering Lessons along the Co-Mentorship Path

IMG_5243Climate change continues to unfold faster than we expected. As we become more informed about the reality and impact our changing world, many of us are getting more organized and taking action. Still, there is friction in transition. It is hard to accept where we are at and to adapt from an entrenched status quo; there is a steep learning curve for people who need to act on their own behalf but are faced with problems they have never imagined before; and people who could be collaborating and innovating together are deeply siloed from one another. These are just a few factors we face in getting-with-it, fast enough to save our species.

Climate Generation is responding to these barriers by investing in a relational organizing model that values long-term power-building and building partnership across many silos. The challenge is to build relationships that become a foundation to reconcile worldviews. Age is one of the silos we believe inhibits innovation and cross-generational co-mentorship is a strategy we are discovering can permeate it.

The Emerging Leaders Mentorship Program invites youth and veteran climate organizers to build egalitarian relationships, as a foundation for knowledge exchange and personal growth, to encourage innovation and collaboration in the Midwest climate movement towards shared goals and success.

Last fall, fourteen pairs were matched within seven Midwest states, around complementary experience, expertise, and growth interests. All participants joined the program as both learners and teachers. Pairs have met between two and four times per month, in-person when possible, drawing from a suite of optional activities to explore how they can be resources for one another.  Those pairs who have found the match to be a good fit are continuing on, finding a rhythm with regular meetings, getting to know one another, and diving into rich, mutually beneficial conversation. Here is a look into what is surfacing….

Topics being explored by pairs:

  • Food Justice and how to organize local elected groups to champion sustainable food, while accounting for institutions invested in the status quo.
  • Professional growth for executive directors, including: time management, managing an organization through its budget, and cultivating an engaged board.
  • Rural electric coop utilities (RECs) and the Clean Power Plan, as well as the context of  REC history and politics.
  • Transportation equity, especially in Wisconsin.
  • How to build a membership based organization in the energy sector
  • Organizing on race and class issues, navigating cultural and logistical differences, and  how to create class solidarity between very different cultural communities (rural poor mostly white vs urban poor mostly black).
  • What it means to be an organizer and how to avoid burnout, particularly when working as a consultant or contractor.  
  • Organizing approaches and the different philosophies behind them, and how identity relates to our work.
  • Campus activism and where cross-race and cross-issue organizing is and isn’t happening; specifically, how fossil fuel divestment and prison divestment connect, as well as race and law.

Every year we learn more about how to support youth and veteran staff to exchange knowledge based on complementary growth interests. This year’s pairs are affirming several key strategies that support this approach and introducing some new ones as well. Here are a few tips to share: :

  • Get clear from the start what you want to get out of the experience
  • Make time to share personal stories and experiences. Open up to one another so that you have a stake in each other and your learning relationship.
  • Meet in-person as much as possible, but try out different locations.  Make time to experience each other’s work spaces, while trying out neutral areas as well.
  • Find a rhythm with your meetings so that it’s easier to remember when you are getting together.  Find a regular time to meet or by plan when you are going to meet next at the end of each get together.
  • Share takeaways/reflections while the conversation is fresh

During the last three months of the program, participants will get to share  insights across pairs through a series of group calls. Participants have proposed and  voted on topics for discussion, resulting in this first round of topics for April:

  • How can we support ourselves and each other as organizers to avoid burnout? What tips on time management can you share
  • What are your experiences and suggestions for working at the intersection of different issues, ages, identities, etc.? What have you learned about integrating community organizing and advocacy? What are you working on now that you are still learning from?
  • Is the strategy of our movement working right now? How can an exchange of information, sharing perspectives, and strategic dialogue shift how our movement works? Who is “our”? Who do “we” consider to be in “our movement” right now? Who wants to be in and who doesn’t? How can RE-AMP State Tables start to address this?

We are interested in your ideas on how to best distill and share insight on fostering and facilitating co-mentorship, so many others can benefit. After four years, the Emerging Leaders Mentorship Program is coming to a close in June, 2016. We look forward to incorporating the resources we have generated into existing and future initiatives and welcome your thoughts on how to share and build on all that we have created together.

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