After some casual banter, the host asks Dominic to introduce the academy.
A.B. Foster is a business academy for 16-25 year olds who don’t fit in the current (traditional) schooling model. It’s to help them discover themselves through entrepreneurship. Especially with the way education is changing not only for children and adults in school and corporate learning. It’s amazing to have a school teaching people about entrepreneurship from a young age. The goal is to place this academy which is currently based in Quebec and is French language.
This idea comes from a group of kids in inner city Montreal 15 years ago. We would consider them at risk. They were there all around 17 years old. I was there to talk about entrepreneurship, persevere and stay in school. In the middle of this presentation, there was a girl who stood up and said we had a chance to ask questions, now do you have a question for us? There were three teachers monitoring 20 kids in case something went wrong. My question was “Why are you here? Why are you getting up every day to get to this school? What’s your passion?” They gave me their answer of what they were deeply passionate about. That look in their eyes when I asked them “What do you love in life?” was life changing for me. This was a “before and after” moment for me. For each student, I gave htem two business that they could start the next day with their passion. Not only that, but I gave them contacts and websites to visit. Afterwards, it was like in a movie. I had 8 students follow me to my car continuing the conversation.
It was interesting that they were smart kids, nobody cared about ttheir passions. This drove me to create something where they could bring these entrepreneurial skills to life. They have never heard that they can do something important. They have problems with their home, at school and never heard encouragement.
Now, 15 years later in the academy, we show students that we have faith in them, that they can do something incredible, and we can all have a positive impact in society.
**How is mentorship contributing to the program at the academy? **
First let's define mentorship. It can appear in two forms. One is when someone transfers their knowledge and even contacts to a new entrepreneur. This is “I’ve done that before”. You should try this, and here is a contact for you.
The problem with this is, as a mentee, I might value your “guru” status so much that if I take your advice, I try it, and it doesn’t work because I’m different from you and my business is different from you. The outcome is, if it doesn’t work and we meet again, this didn’t work, you end up with disappointment, I may feel judged that I can’t implement your idea. This mentor may think there’s something wrong with the mentee and they want to jump in and do the work for me.
The other form of mentorship is a coaching relationship where you ask questions and make sure that the answer comes from the individual you are mentoring. This is more about mirroring for the entrepreneur’s questions. You answer by questions that they can reflect on and come up with their own solution. They gain confidence because the decision making comes from them. Next time, when they face a similar situation in the future, they will know the decision process and reflection process to find their own answer.
It’s this form of mentorship which I think is the most valuable. I have my own mentors—I always have. I have mentors which hold up a mirror and ask the right questions so I can come up with the right solution.
Although, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. There’s room for a hybrid. There’s room for both. You need to grow your network. To work with someone with 20 years and a huge rolodex of context with the keys that can unlock doors. This is valuable.
**How are you creating mentorship opportunities in the program?**
The students arrive at the academy free of charge. They have an agreement to do 7 hours of volunteer work per month. We had initially set the cost of admission at $750. But I remembered those kids 15 years ago and realized that we needed a way to make this free so there were no barriers. They choose a cause that they will volunteer for. The best way to connect in the community is by volunteering.
We have a list of companies and organizations who partner with us. They come to us with a real business challenge. In class, we talk about the theory around that challenge. The kids learn with real cases. After this, the students have to present or pitch their solution or idea to the business. We aren’t there to judge or critique. They have free reign to pitch solutions. The business will hear 15 solutions from creative kids; they will be able to pick and choose solutions to try to implement. They gain confidence with creating solutions and pitching to a business based on a real challenge.
We are creating students who will become great employees with intrapreneurship skills. They are also gaining confidence and skills to become entrepreneurs.
**Do you have faculty mentors? **
Yes. We have entrepreneur coaches who are business owners or experts in their field. They come and talk about their field of expertise with the students. We also have some of our board members who come in and talk about their business. One of our board members is a banker. She gives tips and tricks for our students to pitch to their lender. The students get to practice pitching their ideas to the bankers who will then give their feedback. It’s valuable to have the opportunity for students to access this knowledge and network. It’s mutually beneficial because our students give 7 hours per month back into the community. The community is involved in the academy, business is involved and the academy and these students are participating in the local economy as well.
**Volunteering is an amazing learning opportunity**
Manja says: I took on the job of marketing director for my community orchestra a few years ago. Going through the process was a huge learning opportunity and it was a safe space for me to bring value and made a huge impact for the organization. I learned a lot and could give a lot back.
The feeling of giving brings the volunteer a lot. This is almost the biggest learning opportunity to these students.
Dominic says: I’ve been volunteering a lot as well. I’m giving 10 hours per week, volunteering at the local school, Quebec Entrepreneurship Foundation and the training team for mentors around the province. I’m mentoring two people completely free. I’m also the president of the board for the local theatre.
**How can we create a mentorship within our own learning programs?**
How do you create great mentorship opportunities? If you have a big company, it’s interesting to create mentorships within various departments. Choose a mentor from a department that is different than where the new employee is working. This new employee has been receiving training. It’s helpful for them to talk to someone who is not directly involved in their training.
Even the mentor can learn a lot. They can learn about a different department and the training they’re going through.
You have to train the mentor for their role, and set expectations. They’re there to listen, ask questions, make them comfortable, create a safe place for open communication. The mentor can help transfer the culture. This kind of relationship can help to open communication and create connection between departments.
Productivity of the new employee and engagement within the company would increase as a result.
**What tips do you have to attract mentors? **
There is a lot of time commitment. The problem isn’t to find people; everybody wants to tell their story and talk about how good they are at their job. Plus, if you’ve been successful in your business they want to give back and talk about their business. The challenge is to have that person adopt the mentor model that you want to achieve. The key is not to give advice, the key is to ask questions and listen. Offer training providing how to switch from solution driven entrepreneur to listening mentor.
This is also why it’s important to match people from different fields. Because, the mentor knows too much and can offer too much advice. The magic happens when you match someone from different experiences and expertise. It can be helpful having someone who knows the business and can ask questions instead of giving advice.
**What was your best mentorship experience?**
Dominic says: The best mentorships I have had was someone who asked “How did you get to where you are in your business journey?” When they asked “Why do you want to know?” This was a useful question. They understood that their story would never become my story. So, comparing yourself with others is detrimental.
Manja says: I had a moment two weeks ago in a conversation with my father who is an entrepreneur in a totally separate industry. He asked some great questions without knowing my industry that made me realize what solutions I needed. He also gave me good advice that I needed to stop consuming other people’s information, but to tap into my own creativity and trust in my own instinct.
Everyone should have a mentor. Because it’s carving out time to look at the big picture. It’s giving you time to take the box full of puzzle pieces in your mind, put those pieces on the table and put the pieces back together from a global view where you can build that puzzle and it will look like a beautiful finished picture. A good mentor will help you gain confidence and make decisions that greatly affect your work and ability to make progress.
**Making learning relevant and build accountability with mentorship**
It’s hard to create mindset shifting learning opportunities where people get aha moments themselves. But, mentorship and coaching give people the opportunity to let the learning sink in and become more relevant. Create opportunities in your learning to build in mentorship. Definitely create a guide for the mentor so they are aligned with the goals—which is to ask questions, listen and create a safe space for the mentee.
**Mentorship is a critical component of making sticky learning**
A lot of course creators who make training programs make very rigid structured courses. The goal is to make programs or courses “scalable” or evergreen. What creative ways can mentorship be built into a program like this? It’s a key component. Think creatively.