OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Mentorship Networks (Update #1)

Creating a network of partnerships between seniors' organisations like U3A, AARP etc. and schools, colleges and universities , would bring these two groups together and enable youth to share their existing and developing expertise and knowledge with elders. While technology might form the vanguard there are possibilities for sharing across a range of disciplines and skills. Although the intention would be for youth to share with seniors it would be expected that a healthy, mutual exchange between the two groups would naturally develop.

Photo of Paul Reader
27 20

Written by

How would you describe your idea in one sentence?

A network of partnerships between seniors' organisations and youth institutions, for mutual benefit, but with particular emphasis on youth sharing knowledge and expertise with seniors.

Team Tools - Mentorship Networks community on Google+ has links to (experimental) collaborative resources for team members and others willing to contribute.

Genesis of the Concept   Dynamic Map

Where do Networks exist that can be built upon and levereged?

Seniors' Organisations

The University of the Third Age (U3A) is an international movement (originating in France) for life-long learning that has a membership in the upper age target range for this challenge. Although many have traditional connections with established universities they are substantially self supporting, not only financially, but also in sharing and exchanging knowledge.  There is an opportunity for students and young people to share their expertise and enthusiasm in a number of areas, not merely technology.
As sponsor of this challenge the ARRP Foundation clearly has a focus on the challenge objectives. has a broader mandate than U3A but a more national (USA) scope.

Despite the differences between these two organisations they both have existing networks that could be leveraged to provide the benefits offered through the other concepts emerging in this challenge.
What other seniors' organisations could provide local, regional, national or international links to promulgate the developing mentoring concepts? 

In addition to existing organisations/networks Thasleem's Intergenerational Club might be an example of new organisations that could be set up and fostered.

Schools, Colleges and Universities

These are legion and many already have their own networks and broad community relationships, but they do not necessarily bring youth and seniors together in the way envisioned in this challenge.

Some universities are already involved in providing life-long learning formally and informally, often through the continuing efforts of retired academics. Their efforts could be complemented by involvement of youth currently studying the same disciplines. (see Life-long Learning below).

How can we encourage these institutions to sanction youth providing mentoring to seniors?

Concepts like " Saturday University" give impetus to kindling or re-kindling interest in learning, exemplify the youth mentoring role.and provide a bridge between the groups. Networking within and between the groups could foster such initiatives

Because these organisations already exist, forming networks and partnerships between them for mutual benefit becomes easier than building from scratch.

The immediately obvious point of interaction is probably technology, with younger students sharing their expertise with seniors inclined to 'try it out'. 
Beyond this such things as language classes could bring young and old together to practice and interact at appropriate levels. This can apply to some aspects of music, fine art, dancing, writing, literature studies and other disciplines. 
Other areas of involvement would include undergraduate students sharing knowledge as they aquire it, or graduates sharing aspects of research.

In my experience one of the best ways to consolidate knowledge, particularly as it is being acquired, is to share it with others, so such interactions become mutually beneficial

The networks need not be confined to academic pursuits.
Students involved in what we (in Australia) term vocational education could partner with seniors to develop gardens, furniture making, photography, possibly welding, motor mechanics and more. The same would apply to sharing hobbies and other interests.

Although the challenge is aimed at youth mentoring seniors it would not matter much if the roles occasionally reverted to the opposite. A greater objective might be achieved at times when the distictions are blurred and collaborative and cooperative learning is achieved for all.

Establishing such partnerships in existing networks could lead to expanding them too. Hobart is a city of about 250,000 people but supports 4 chapters of U3A. They are affiliated with other national, regional and international bodies, but independent not-for profits. Universities, no doubt, have similar levels of global interaction and schools perhaps less so. The opportunity would exist to establish more network links for all institutions and, for U3A, to develop new chapters linked to the broader network. I'm sure there are other organisations, similar to U3A that might benefit through participation.

Life-long Learning and Co-Location

As indicated above, this is a key aspect many of the possible ‘youth mentoring seniors’ scenarios. It is already happening in many places within the above mentioned organisations and institutions and in other places too :

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute - thanks to Leigh Cullen for this research
Some of these may not yet utilise youth ‘expertise’ but others do:

Intergenerational Learning Programme - Dublin City University

Building the Partnerships

How can these partnerships and networks of networks be formed and fostered?

Some possibilities might include:
  • Polls, questionnaires and surveys.
  • Direct approach
  • Scenario building to promote thinking of possible interactions.
  • Knowledge Boxes - (from Karin's concept presents a practical way of establishing links and transferring knowledge.
  • Tuesday's Mentoring Elective represents a practical initiative from a school/college perspective to broadening the range of mentoring that youth can offer.
Scenario Shorts
A. Language Skills
Alan, Kate and Elizabeth are all keen 10th grade French students at the local high school..They are progressing well but would benefit from more oral practice. Their teacher discovers that the Boomers 50+ Club in town is offering French classes too. She suggests to the students that, if she can swing it, they may be able to help out at the Boomers 50+ Club a few times and get some oral skills practice at the same time. After discussions with club members and their instructors it is decided to conduct two trial sessions three weeks apart.

Although the first session is somewhat shaky after some additional coordination between teacher and instructor the second session is much more successful. By the end of the second semester there have been five additional successful sessions, the kids and over 50’s are both enjoying the interactions and the language skills of both are improving rapidly.

.At a teachers’ development conference later in the year the teacher discusses the success of the experiment with colleagues from around the state, some of whom decide to try similar approaches to bringing student and senior groups together.
Similarly, the secretary of the Boomer’s 50 + Club (one of the participants) mentions the benefit received from the exercise when in discussion with his counterpart in another state.
(This type of scenario might form an option in Tuesday's Mentoring Eloective.)
B. Motor Mechanics
Tony is the teacher of motor mechanics at the local technical college. He also runs classes for seniors interested in doing their own simple maintenance through a Mens’ Shed organisation. While he has the facilities at the technical college for his students to practice things like oil changes in groups, this actually limits the amount of practice they receive. At the Mens’ Shed he has no practical facilities and can only supplement his theory with video material. He suggests to each member of his Mens’ Shed group that, if they like, he will ask some of his college students to help them on an individual basis. The youth are very happy to be given the opportunity to help but Tony stresses that the objective is to demonstrate the first time, then supervise and advise the next two times.
After the exercise the Mens’ Shed puts details up on its website which generates enquiries both from future local participants and other Mens’ Sheds around the country.
C. Astronomy
George lectures in Radio Astronomy at UTAS and has 5 masters students under supervision. He is approached by the local U3A Astronomy group to address them on current issues, as they are interested to learn of recent developments. Instead of preparing material himself he negotiates with his masters students, as part of their term papers, to each make a 15 minute presentation, on an aspect of their research, to the U3A  group, and to take part in a general discussion at the end.

The success of this evening is reported in the U3A bi-annual newsletter circulated to other U3As around the world. This prompts a U3A in Hungary to organise a similar liaison for their local Botany group with the professor of Genetics at their nearby university.

While aspects of these scenarios might appear crude, impractical or far-fetched they serve as illustrations of ways in which the partnerships and networks envisaged could form and blossom.

Can and should we develop a repository of more sophisticated scenarios, or better still real examples, that can be used to foster ‘possibility thinking’?
If so, we need both high and low tech ways of promulgating them.


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

Although I am not personally a member of U3A, I have a number of friends who are members. I can start by broaching the possibility with my friends. At the same time seeking response from students and their institutions.

What aspects of your idea could benefit from the input, skills or know-how of our OpenIDEO community?

The breadth of membership of the OpenIDEO community would prove very useful in contributing advice and feedback on the idea from a range of perspectives. Some will be in a far better position than me to research and canvas opinions in the broader community or to devise suitable experiments and prototypes. Especially need more thinking around mechanisms for making the links and connections (both real and virtual) that will emphasise the core, reverse-mentorship, aspect of this challenge. Please give some thought to the questions raised in the concept and please raise any questions and criticisms you may have too.

Evaluation results

12 evaluations so far

1. How well does this idea inspire and engage young people to support older adults through mentorship?

Really well – this idea clearly activates young people to support older adults - 33.3%

It’s getting there but could use a bit more work to flesh out exactly how - 58.3%

This idea doesn’t really address how to inspire and engage young people as mentors to older adults - 8.3%

2. How clearly does this idea outline a path to scale so that it can spread from one local community to around the world?

Crystal clear – I understand all the milestones that this idea would need to hit in order to spread beyond one local geography - 25%

It’s pretty clear that this idea has the potential to scale but the steps needed to grow aren’t detailed enough - 58.3%

Not very clear – I’m not sure this idea is designed to scale given how it’s explained here - 16.7%

3. How well does this idea define who its target users are and the ways that it can meet their needs and life stages?

Very well – I understand exactly who this idea is meant to engage and how it will support them - 91.7%

Ok – I’m not sure I could tell you exactly who the target user is but I might be able to guess - 0%

It’s hard to tell who this idea is actually meant to engage and support - 8.3%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

It rocked my world - 16.7%

I liked it but preferred others - 58.3%

It didn’t get me overly excited - 25%

View more

Team (3)

Leigh's profile
Leigh Cullen

Role added on team:

"Leigh will be a valued member of the team. She brings a variety of skills, particularly in the Design Thinking area together with a broad grasp of concepts and insight for the specific."

Paul's profile
Jes's profile
Jes Simson

Role added on team:

"Jes has a talent both for generating novel but practical ideas, and for producing thoughtful, collaborative input to the ideas of others."


Join the conversation:

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Hi Paul. Creating a network is a great idea. There are so many services already available for youth and for seniors. Connecting them can create impact for both. One idea I have that might help bridge them is to approach the boards of those that are non profits. The board members may have many connections of their own, perhaps to some of the other institutions that would be great partners. Present the plan and tap into their powerful networks. Another possibility is to look at who is funding the different organizations that you might want to target. If there is a common funding source they might also be a great bridge.
Great project Paul! I really like the map as well.

View all comments