The Return of the Mentor

The Return of the Mentor

The impact of people helping people to foster safe partnerships that empower the leaders of tomorrow


Bringing learning to where people are and at their point of need is a phenomenon that must be reckoned with to stay competitive. Mentorship could be an excellent solution, as a meet-up can be agreed at the workplace on a when-suited and when-needed basis. Sharing professional issues and giving experience-based advice in a safe partnership empowers the leaders of tomorrow within the organization as well as contributes to a healthier work environment. It comes as no surprise that the UN encourages mentoring across nations and organizations. It can be organized in a variety of ways among colleagues, but a recent pilot project has shown promising results to use mentoring as a training methodology for the ITCILO’s external service as well. Maybe it is time to bring back this forgotten personal and professional development tool, and scale it up beyond the Centre’s gates to unlock its training power.

Pay it forward

Feedback is a gift, especially if it is a non-sugar-coated version that you would otherwise never get. An honest and open mentor will challenge views and opinions, help think through what the next steps should be and be an entry point into new networks and high-profile projects. Mentoring, if carefully managed, can be one of the most efficient personal development tools to support young talent in their career aspirations.

Or what about a mentorship with a twist, where a junior staff member “mentors” a senior manager? Reverse mentoring involves a younger staff member, preferably from a different gender and ethnicity, sharing a diverse professional experience for the senior staff’s benefit. Often times, bottom-up feedback doesn’t reach senior leaders anymore and getting a new perspective that is different from the feedback of senior peers can be refreshing.

However organized, mentoring will connect generations and empower younger colleagues, as well as foster diversity, promote inclusion, spark innovation, and accelerate collaboration.

Coaching coaches

The International Training Centre of the ILO could also introduce mentoring and coaching (which focuses more on business development rather than personal development) as a service to its constituents. Why not train people to become a mentor or coach? Or coordinate a mentoring connection between two peer institutions?

Coaching in Afghanistan

Years ago, before its current hype, the ILO established training packages for entrepreneurs with four core modules on how to start a business, generate income, improve the start-up and how to expand it. Even though this is a great start, there wasn’t any further support foreseen after the course had ended and the survival rate of the businesses was often times rather low. Joel Alcocer, Senior Programme Officer at the Employment Policy and Analysis Programme (EPAP), identified the cause of the gap between start-up phase and the first obstacles a business encounters and came up with a solution: coaching.

A pilot project was initiated to enable Afghanistan to move from fragility to resilience. One of the programme activities had the objective to train business coaches in Afghanistan to support local start-ups to overcome those first obstacles and thus promote youth employment. Over the course of 12 months, distance learning with weekly contact was interspersed with 8 face-to-face trainings in the region, getting nine business coaches ready for the job. Thanks to a strong local partner, the team was able to set up a sustainable structure to ensure the continuation of coaching for new businesses. They generated a spending bank of coaching hours with combined funding provided for 70% by the donor and 20% by the national chamber of commerce, leaving 10% to be paid for by the client start-up.

It is not a one-off what the coaches do with their knowledge. They can serve multiple clients and instigate others to become a business coach or mentors, too. Over time we will be able to see the overall impact of our pilot project, but already the project is giving us some return on investment. The coaches form a feedback loop that goes back to the ILO and ITCILO, providing us with local input and keeping us in touch with that is happening in the field,” says Michela Albertazzi, Junior Programme Officer at Employment Policy and Analysis Programme (EPAP).

South-South mentorship

Another programme activity under the same project was training on policies tailored to the Afghan country context. Again, mentorship turned out to have a positive impact. “Here,” Ms. Albertazzi says, “participants brainstormed about 4 thematic policy areas: gender equality, technical and vocational skills, migration and entrepreneurship. To move to the next phase, the training delivery, the ITCILO partnered with the V.V. Giri National Labour Institute in India to collaborate with the design and delivery of trainings and study visits. Involving them became a true example of South-South cooperation where the Afghan participants got a lot of exposure to the latest and best practices in India.” At its core, this peer exchange was also a form of mentorship.

Becoming a better version of oneself

Mentoring or coaching are not a magic wand solution to personal and professional growth. It takes careful management, step by step, to ensure that both parties benefit from the opportunity. It encourages people to maximize their own learning potential, develop new skills and basically become a better version of themselves. This is a worthy cause to strive for, benefit internally between colleagues, or externally between experts and start-ups or two peers, as we can all collaborate to build towards the more resilient world of work of tomorrow.


Mentoring within the UN:

To read about a personal experience of reversed mentoring, please refer to this website: https://www. encouraging-employees-to-stay-curious-creative

To learn more about the Afghanistan project, check out this website: afghanistanprojectreport or contact Mr. Joel Alcocer at or Ms. Michela Albertazzi at


Originally published in the Future of Learning magazine.