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Mutual Mentorship: A Hub and Spoke Student-Run Organization - UPDATED 08/01

Youth are more likely to engage in a mentorship relationship when they feel they have something meaningful to contribute and are confident in their ability to engage productively with an older adult. Mutual Mentorship ("MM") will first teach students about mentorship and the role they will serve to deserving older adults, allowing students to feel more empowered and better able to foster meaningful relationships. Once students feel comfortable and confident with their mentor position, MM offers three streams by which students can connect with older adults: (1) through MM's network of contacts; (2) through the MM app; and (3) through group activities organized by MM chapters. When it comes to mentorship, one size does not fit all.

Photo of Stephanie Susanne
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How would you describe your idea in one sentence?

Mutual Mentorship ("MM") is a school-based organization enabling development and confidence growth among high school and undergraduate students such that they feel empowered and equipped to meaningfully connect and engage with older adults.
THE BASICS: MM Headquarters will operate a NPO (small-scale) tasked with coordinating and supporting various MM chapters in high schools and universities. Upon joining MM, students will engage in a brief training course that will arm them with basic skills on how to be a mentor. This will not only enhance students’ ability to mentor productivity, but also increase their self-efficacy when it comes to forming a meaningful relationship with an older person (something that often feels quite daunting or even scary to young people). By completing the training course, students will receive a MM certificate, an accomplishment that can be put on a resume or job application.

Depending on the age and preferences of the student, various avenues can be pursued in order to find an older person to mentor.
  • One: Students can reach out to one of MM's affiliated organizations (e.g. veterans societies, homes for the elderly, church groups) to look for a mentorship match or placement. This option is ideal for students who are younger, and may not be able to set up mentorship meetings independently (e.g. for safety reasons). This option is also helpful for students looking for a no-fuss, no-complications mentorship match. Moreover, it is great for older people who can be matched with a mentor without having to join an online or digital community, as many older people either to not have access or knowledge regarding these electronic forums. 
  • Second: Students can utilize the MM App to look for a mentorship match. Both students and older people can join, filling in preferences and limited criteria  (e.g. interests, hobbies) to ensure the most effective and productive match. This option provides a more tailored experience (e.g. matches an older person who loves to read classic novels with a student who is majoring in English); however, it assumes that the older person has access to the app and is comfortable using it. This option is also more time intensive.
  • Third: Students can participate in group activities arranged by the chapter. For example, a group of students can attend “game night” or “movie night” at a nursing home. This option may be particularly suitable for students who are shy or nervous about forming a one-on-one mentor relationship. It is ideal for first time mentors looking to get their feet wet.

APPEAL TO OLDER ADULTS: It is important to note that MM's name and mission is empowering for older people as it acknowledges the reality that the older and younger can serve in a mentorship that is mutually beneficial. Older people and younger people have much to teach other, and the most beneficial relationships will enable this mutual sharing.

BENEFITS OF A NETWORK MODEL: It is important for the youth of today to feel supported in everything they do. MM enables students to feel like they are part of a bigger community, a community of students from different schools who can both learn from each other, innovate together, and build the MM brand.

  • Peace by PEACE
  • Free the Children

ATTRACTION: Extrinsic motivation is an important consideration. Being a part of MM allows students to earn their MM certificate (becoming a trained mentor), an accomplishment that can be included on any resume or job application. It also allows students to be part of a legitimate organization that can be listed under their extra-curricular involvement. Over time and in the long run, there may be an opportunity to develop an online reward system through the MM app.

The MM curriculum should be designed to both inform and empower students, helping them to feel more comfortable in their role as a mentor. Much of the feedback I have received, along with the helpful comments below, indicates that students often feel uneasy or confused about their position as a mentor. They tend to think in a linear and confined way, seeing mentorship in a formal capacity, about providing assistance and advice. This can seem overwhelming, especially for young students. The MM curriculum will help students understand basic questions about mentorship and prepare them for their new (and exciting) role as a mentor. As I get more feedback (please help!) I will continue to refine.
Main Topics:
  • What is a mentor?
    • --> A mentor is like a friend, a buddy. Just like your friends, a mentor does not need to be wiser or more knowledgeable than their mentee. Mentors are around for camaraderie, to talk through ideas, to play games, to share stories and experiences, and to have fun. There are no strict rules about what a mentorship relationship should look like. It can take many forms. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to go about building a relationship.
  • How do you build a relationship with an older adult?
    • --> Believe it or not, students can have a lot in common with older adults. Just because you are different ages does not mean you will not have things to talk about. Maybe you have travelled to the same places or studied the same subjects. Even better, maybe you have travelled to different places or studied different subjects – then you can learn from each other! Like in any new relationship, start by asking questions and getting to know each other. Share stories, share questions. You will be surprised what happens once you open up! 

  • Write down three stories you can share. Share them with a friend.
  • Write down three pieces of advice you would give a new friend (about anything!). Next time you meet someone new, share one piece of advice.
  • Write down three open-ended questions you can ask to get to know a person better. For example, you can ask: what is your favourite book and why?
  • Retirement centres
  • Nursing homes
  • YMCA
  • Churches and community centres
  • Hospitals
  • DesignAbility

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to test any assumptions you might have about your idea?

One lightweight experiment may include reaching out to students to see if they would be interested in the MM initiative and ascertain the degree to which they would like to be involved. Ideally students would not only want to participate in the MM programme, but also start independent chapters at their schools (chapters that would later become part of the MM community). A second lightweight experiment may include drafting the MM educational programming and conducting a focus group with students. Key points for evaluation may include the following: (1) how responsive the students are to the material; (2) the degree to which the material engages students; (3) how helpful the students find the material; and (4) the confidence and self-efficacy levels of students before and after the session.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Dave Zinsman

Kudos, Stephanie!

I LOVE this idea. I've personally started two student organizations while in school, and have done a little extra-curricular design consulting. Here are a few morsels I can offer about the ecosystem of your channel.

1) Ease of use is paramount. The most difficult thing for student organizations at any level is coordination. The more straightforward your product is, the more likely it is to be consumed. Think 1-2-3, done. Better yet, think 1-2, done!

2) Academic discipline alignment. All colleges have separate academic units, such as XYZ School of Communications, QWR School of Medicine, LMN School of Public Policy, etc. Quite often, student organizations will be specific to a discipline or school. Defining your users and their pain points will give you a good idea on how to align MM with a specific academic discipline/student org pool.

3) Most importantly, make involvement in MM something that every student wants on their CV/LinkedIn, or college application for younger students, and you have a real winner!

I love this project, and can't wait to see you put together a prototype and test it out! Who's your user? If a college freshman came up to you tomorrow and said, "hey I want to start a student org that helps students connect to older adults" what would your 1-2-3 be?

Photo of Stephanie Susanne

Thanks, Dave. This is great advice! Do you have an example of a "1-2-3, done" model? I think for MM Mentorship, the 1-2-3 would be as follows:

1. Contact Head Office, a student run hub. They will provide you with training materials and partnership opportunities within the community.

2. Start your own chapter on campus. Invite other students to come and be a part of the MM community. Branding will entice them to join, and it will look great on a CV!

3. You're set! Now, train new comers as they come in (with the provided material) and take advantage of established ties in the community.

Any thoughts?

Photo of Dave Zinsman

Hey Stephanie,
Cool! That's perfect, and then you could condense it further to describe your app. For instance "Connect-Mentor-Share." Having a succinct proposition would be great for busy students.

I can see your business model being similar to Net Impact, the social innovation student organization NGO.
What are you thinking for channel strategy? One way to start is reaching out to existing clubs that already focus on geriatric care such as the Geriatric Student Interest Group at NYU.

good luck!!

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Hi Stephanie. Educating and training teens to become mentors is a great idea. Have you considered including a discussion on all the things a mentoring relationship can be? I spoke to a teenager about this challenge and his definition of a mentor was narrow - someone who teaches another a skill. This did not interest him for a variety of reasons. When I offered him a broadened definition, one that included sharing experiences and assisting along the way, especially around things he is most passionate about, he was happy to do that at anytime with anyone - no age limitations at all.

I love your description of the network model, community of students and schools. I think this is a definite attraction for youth. A youth movement of sorts. Excited to see how this develops!!!

Photo of Stephanie Susanne

This is a great point, Bettina! I definitely think this should be a part of the MM educational system. Including a discussion on the various aspects of a mentoring relationship will make the notion of being a mentor a little less daunting and more attractive. Let me know if you have any other ideas regarding MM's educational programming!

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Congratulations on MM being shortlisted!
Are you familiar with JROTC? It is a leadership program in high schools. Sort of like a mini military model but apparently not a feed in group for the actual military. The reason I bring them up is that it is a national organization and community service is part of the program. I wonder if this might be a model to look at in terms of networks. Are chapters in contact with each other? Are youth motivated to belong by being part of a greater movement? Don't know myself but seems likely. Some JROTC chapters appear to be aligned with some Veterans Groups.

I might be interesting to have a roundtable between youth and seniors which discusses how to build MM together - the process as it goes forward.
Good luck building it out!

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congrats on this post being today's Featured Contribution!

Photo of Stephanie Susanne

Thanks! Very exciting!

Photo of Meena Kadri

Great stuff, Stephanie! Do you have thoughts on a lightweight experiment that could be conducted in your own community towards testing assumptions on this exciting idea (more tips on prototyping & lightweight experiments here: Once you've got some thoughts on that, you can add them directly to the specific submission form question on experiments by hitting the Update Entry button up there on the right.

And here's a friendly tip: update your OpenIDEO profile so folks can dig who they're collaborating with here. Think skills, experience, passions & wit! Looking forward to seeing more of you across conversations on this challenge...

Photo of Stephanie Susanne

Thanks for the feedback and tip, Meena. I will start brainstorming!

Photo of Ashley Jablow

Awesome thinking, Stephanie! I like how your idea takes a real 'ecosystem' approach and thinks about a mentoring model from lots of angles. I'm curious if you can tease out more about who is really represented in the 'older adult' user group you're envisioning. Are you thinking of people 50-60, or more like 80-90, or something else? As we've seen in lots of our challenge discussions so far, there's so much nuance within the term 'older adult' – so it might be helpful to hone in on exactly who you're envisioning from that category. What do you think?