A helping hand: Women mentoring women
Great leaders of industry and gifted people in every field have always had mentors. By providing guidance, instruction and counselling, mentors help their mentees fully realize their potential.
“I am a woman who has achieved much in my life, but I had to work hard because I didn’t have the support,” says Gordana Lazarević, 67, a mentor from Belgrade. “So I wanted to share the lessons I’ve learnt to give today’s young women a helping hand.”
Gordana is one of 100 women who are volunteering their time as mentors in an OSCE-supported project in Serbia to help younger women enhance their participation in society in a meaningful way.
She spent ten years working as Serbia’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Economic Relations and now works as a consultant with international agencies on implementing projects related to Serbia’s EU integration. Since 2013 she has been paired with mentee Tamara Glišić, 29, who works at the European Affairs Fund of Serbia’s Autonomous Province of Vojvodina.
“I was nervous about opening up with my feelings and concerns to Goca,” says Tamara, using Gordana’s friendly, diminutive name. “I used to be afraid of authority but because of the advice and guidance I received from Goca, I gained the confidence and skills to approach managers with my ideas, and now I’m invited to their meetings.”
“Thanks to Goca I learnt how and when to overstep the mark for good results!” Tamara smiles.
What is mentoring?
A mentor is someone who provides guidance, instruction, modelling, counselling and –if possible- sponsoring. Traditionally the process of mentoring involves two individuals, a mentor and a mentee, and it is understood as a reciprocal relationship that allows both parties to experience growth and transformation.
Both Gordana and Tamara agree that their relationship has evolved into a friendship.
“We’re in touch with each other almost every other day on the phone or through e-mails and Facebook,” says Tamara. “We see each other in person at least once a month, and when we do, we talk for hours!”
The mentoring programme is not a one-way street of benefits for the mentee. Mentors have much to gain too.
Mentor Svetlana Tomić, 45, an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Foreign Languages at the Belgrade-based Alfa University, says that as well as learning a lot from the mentees she also appreciates networking with other mentors, and even called on the help of a fellow mentor in promoting her new book.
I was so thankful to my Professor for my mentoring, I thought, ‘I can never give back to her what she gave to me.’ So I decided to help others.
Svetlana Tomić Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Foreign Languages at the Belgrade-based Alfa University
Svetlana Tomić got involved in the project having been a mentee while she was studying in the United States. “I was so thankful to my Professor for my mentoring, I thought, ‘I can never give back to her what she gave to me.’ So I decided to help others. I get so much satisfaction from this and mentoring never feels like a burden.”
Indeed it is common for mentees to go on to become mentors themselves. Tamara, for example, has recently taken on the role of a mentor for a younger woman in her native Novi Sad, becoming part of a new generation of mentors.
The success of this OSCE-supported project and its ongoing expansion requires some degree of co-ordination and organization. Suitable candidates for mentees and mentors have to be found. Pairs have to be matched according to the mentees’ expressed needs. Partnerships have to be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure both mentor and mentee are content with the programme. Workshops are also organized for mentors and mentees to enable networking and to boost their skillset.
“We’re almost providing mentees with a non-formal education,” says Svetlana Stefanović of the European Movement in Serbia, an NGO which has been implementing a women’s mentorship programme since 2010. The OSCE Mission to Serbia began supporting the Movement’s programme in 2012 and it currently oversees 20 mentoring pairs.
An open call for applications is issued every year from October to November, with interviews in December to assess the applicants’ suitability.
“We often receive applications from potential mentees who know exactly what they want to get out of this programme,” says Svetlana Stefanović. “We point out from the beginning that this programme is not about getting a job. We match mentees with mentors according to the mentees’ expressed needs.”
The project relies on word-of-mouth to recruit both fresh mentees and mentors. “Because the majority of participants are very satisfied with the programme, new mentees and mentors are usually very eager to join up,” says Svetlana Stefanović.
Given its success in Serbia, the OSCE has introduced the project in other countries where it has field operations, adapting the mentoring model used by the Danish Centre for Information on Gender, Equality and Diversity (KVINFO), says Zorana Antonijević, the officer at the OSCE Mission to Serbia co-ordinating the mentoring programme.
KVINFO has developed a mentor network that has involved more than 7,000 women since 2002, making it the largest of its kind in the world. The core objective of KVINFO’s Mentor Network is to pair up refugee and immigrant women as mentees with women mentors who are firmly established within both Danish society and the labour market.
What is KVINFO’s methodology?
KVINFO’s Mentor Network builds mentoring relationships based upon clear values and focuses on similarities between women, rather than differences, in which both mentor and mentee are treated as equals. The mentor and mentee are paired up according to the mentee’s educational and professional background and her personal wishes and goals.KVINFO’s Mentor Network
A joint OSCE-KVINFO publication, Creating Mentor Networks in the OSCE Region: A Practical Roadmap, was published in 2014, providing guidance to both mentees and mentors as well as project co-ordinators. The publication has become a key part of the toolbox as the project is taken on by other OSCE field operations, while in Serbia it has been adapted and translated by the European Movement in Serbia for use among their network along with their own publications.
The voluntary nature of mentorships means that the programme can be sustained at very little cost, says Zorana, who is herself a mentor.
The project is small in scale but it isn’t about the number of participants - it’s about transforming these women’s lives.
Zorana Antonijević OSCE Mission to Serbia
Reaching the Roma
One woman whose life was transformed as a result of this programme is Julkica Stefanović, 27, from Novi Sad.
“People are surprised when I tell them that I’m not just a waitress but I actually own a café!” says Julkica, who realised her ambition of become a business entrepreneur last year.
“My mentor helped me understand that just because I’m a Roma woman doesn’t mean I’m a less-valued member of society and I have less to contribute.”
Roma women and girls are often at a greater disadvantage because they can face multiple forms of discrimination as both Roma and women within mainstream society, and chauvinistic attitudes within their own Roma communities.
“The Roma community can be very difficult to reach,” says Marina Simeunović, 30, a mentee from the Roma community. “There’s a lack of internet access in many areas in which Roma live, and there’s a general mistrust of institutions and civil society. Parents also have a lot of influence and want us to settle down rather than pursue a career.”
Marina now supports the European Movement in Serbia in reaching out to young Roma women and encouraging them to apply for mentorships.
Julkica joined the programme on Marina’s advice and has no regrets, despite the challenges in operating her business.
“It’s difficult to make a profit when customers see this café is Roma-owned and walk straight out,” she laments. “But I have another business plan and I am determined to be a successful business entrepreneur and to challenge stereotypes of both women and Roma!”
Julkica says she will continue to look to her mentor’s support in making her dream come true.
“My mentor never saw me as a Roma woman but saw me as a woman who wants to change my life. I couldn’t rely on my own community nor could I count on the support of the non-Roma community. So we as women have no choice but to help each other.”
The European Movement in Serbia’s mentoring programme
The European Movement in Serbia launched its activities in women-to-women mentorships in 2010 with a Mentoring Walk. The Movement expanded and extended this project with a whole calendar of activities to become the “Share Your Knowledge - Become a Mentor” initiative supported by Erste Bank and the US Embassy in Belgrade.Learn more