What can a rock climbing gym teach us about mentoring?
Brooklyn Boulders (BKB) was built with a dual vision in mind: a rock climbing gym created so that its physical space would build community and spark innovation. How does this intentionally designed space nurture connections? Beyond the 38,000 square feet of climbing walls, the gym features startup offices and ample community gathering areas for events like art exhibitions, music and town hall type convenings. BKB uses their large space to connect people who might not normally connect through climbing. W alk in the doors and you see an unexpected mix of New Yorkers – young professionals, retired people and kindergartners casually colliding in a single physical space. BKB’s space is the body language of Brooklyn’s culture and a vehicle for serendipitous connection. From cheering each other up climbing walls to enjoying 'family style' meals together – it’s a relaxed and natural model for mixing across generations.
We when we think about new ways to bring people together, we don’t have to invent something completely new. Brooklyn Boulders is a twist on what a climbing gym could be. What else could we put a twist on to bring people together in new and unexpected ways?
How do we meaningfully connect when we can’t be together?
Skillshare is tackling exactly this, and it’s changing education in the process. Students join an online community to master real-world skills through project-based classes taught by experts. Anyone with a computer can participate in classes without enrolling in a formal educational program. Learning is self-directed – as a Skillshare learner you’re able to tap into a global community to learn from others, receive feedback and share ideas. Teaching has changed too – the site is a platform for people who’ve developed expertise in an area to share what they know with the world and to do so at scale. And Skillshare provides teachers with guidelines for structuring and creating course content to ensure that students have the best experience possible.
Skillshare and other online learning platforms like it bridge boundaries to make physical and geographic constraints irrelevant. How else could digital tools help us tackle some of the other constraints that keep people from mentoring and being mentored?
What existing infrastructures can we build upon?
The University of San Francisco has created a secondary university within its walls. USF leveraged its existing physical structure and academic programming to create the Fromm Institute – bringing older adults into its hallways and classrooms. Fromm mimics college life in many ways, including a vibrant culture with peer-elected student officers who plan events for their fellow students. The university counts thousands of students over the age of 50 amongst its life-long learning alumni.
The Fromm Institute didn’t set out to build a university from scratch. Instead, it built on existing structures and capabilities in order to bring its offering to a new group. What other existing infrastructures might we build upon in order to bring new people into mentoring?
Inspiring new connections
As we continue to think about new ways to bring people together and seed a mentorship movement across generations, we don’t have to start from scratch. Let’s borrow from inspiration from each of these stories to spur our thinking: What new possibilities do we open up by putting a twist on existing offerings? What role can digital tools play in connecting people and ideas? How might we use existing infrastructure to broaden mentoring capacity and reach new people on both sides of the exchange?
We look forward to seeing what this inspires for each of you!
Coreen Callister, Annie Valdes + the OpenIDEO Team