Learning through Connectivity

View the full Emerging Leaders Mentorship Program brochure here.

This past June, the second iteration of the Emerging Leaders Mentorship Program successfully came to a close, after matching 21 cross-generational pairs of organizers and supporting them in an six month shared learning experience.

The program’s egalitarian structure of co-mentorship encouraged all participants to engage as learners and teachers, with the premise that mutual relationships support the healthiest personal and movement growth.  Through exposure to new paradigms of organizing, access to valuable networks, and constructive feedback from mentor partners, this program aimed to grow movement building potential at local and regional levels, while enabling young people to step more easily into the environmental leadership vacuum. The results suggest success on many fronts.

Regional Connectivity and Movement Building

This year the program engaged a cross-section of participants, from the RE-AMP network and beyond, in different sectors of the climate movement, from food justice, to extractive industries, to green economy, to clean energy and energy efficiency. Participants represented 6 different Midwest states:  IA, IL, MN, WI, MI, and OH, with pairs of most matches living or working in the same state.

While 3 pairs chose to withdraw from the program for various reasons, mostly related to lack of capacity or change of employment, all pairs indicated they intended to continue connecting with their match. Out of the initial 42 people engaged, 20 were RE-AMP members, including 3 youth, with 2 other participants having been connected to RE-AMP through the Youth Caucus. Four youth participants became new RE-AMP members through the mentorship program. Seven youth participants registered for the RE-AMP in-person meeting, demonstrating further connectivity across the region.

Over the 6 month program, participants discussed challenges and opportunities for growth in their work and together developed new insights, in pairs and as a larger group.

Reflections on movement building that emerged on the 4 sets of monthly group calls:

  • Younger organizers seem to invest in local work instead of broader state and federal policy, which may be influenced by having fewer to no personal experiences with state and federal legislative wins
  • Personal experience influences one’s theory of change; this awareness could help connect local organizing with broader policy, and help guide more sensitive, respectful collaboration across ages, as policy campaigns currently do not tend to be accessible to youth or tend to engage them in a respectful way
  • Perspectives differ on the purpose and role of non-violent direct action/civil disobedience in the climate movement; to some it could be futile, antagonistic, and sad, whereas to others it brings important visibility to an issue, and may be the only remaining option to shift power; direct action that risks arrest can be a recognition that the person getting arrested and many others are already vulnerable or insecure (due to the threats of climate change, or other injustices), and that direct action is a serious statement calling for change.
  • Mainstream environmental organizations often seem to be ignoring or speaking for vulnerable communities, without bringing voices of impacted people to the forefront of decisions; building more mutually beneficial relationships and an understanding of followership/solidarity could help connect impacted people with decisions made about their security

According to feedback from participants, these insights generated and shared on these group calls expanded individuals perspectives. It is our hope that they may continue to influence decisions in broader networks seeking to address climate change, to which these participants belong.

Local Connectivity and Personal Relationships
Pairs were matched as close in proximity as possible, enabling 15 of 17 pairs to meet in person at least once and up to 4 times. Frequency of meetings and type of connection varied among pairs, as their schedules and preferences differed. When not meeting in person, connecting by phone was the most typical alternative, though Skype and Google Hangouts were also used.

Feedback from participants included requests for a longer program, even up to a year, so that the relationships between pairs could further develop, as well as for more support to have in-person interaction, which reinforced the importance of face-to-face meetings indicated by earlier research on mentorship best practices.  Matching pairs that live and work even more closely together geographically will be a priority going forward.

Younger participants indicated that their match helped them to better understand possible career options and next steps to take on their path, and several matches used this program to reflect deeply on challenges of “transitional leadership,” which is highly relevant to filling leadership vacuums and supporting youth in connecting employment opportunities.

Many participants indicated that they would be interested in participating again next year, either with the same match or a new one based on complementary growth interests and expertise among applicants.

Evaluation and Preparation for Next Year
To help quantify intended outcomes related to connectivity and value of egalitarian relationships, this year participants were given a pre- and post-program survey, modeled off “self efficacy” tests used in education. The results are still being processed, but they will help capture shifts in perspectives of participants on the value of cross-generational collaboration and egalitarian relationships, their perceived ability to hold those working relationships, and how connected they feel to their city, state, and the Midwest.

In addition to responding to the evaluation, participants have provided great insights about how to improve the program for next year. One resounding piece of advice was to support even more personal connection across pairs, possibly by sharing discussion ideas in an online forum and having a page with bios and photos of all participants. Another amendment is to provide more structure for conversations, through optional prompt questions and topics.

These suggestions and others will help hone this program’s ability to support cross generational co-mentorship that can grow knowledge and capacity of individual participants and their organizations, while building a more effective and connected movement to address climate change.

If you are interested in joining the 2014-2015 cycle of the Emerging Leaders Mentorship Program, contact Savannah Duby at: savannah@willstegerfoundation.org. Participants will be invited to apply primarily in August and September 2014.


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