The Wexner Foundation Launches Mentorship Program

by Cindy Chazan

Edith Wharton powerfully said, “there are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” With the development of The Wexner Foundation’s Mentoring initiative, the Foundation endeavors to hold a mirror before many of its bright lights. After twenty five years of nurturing and training some of our communities’ established and emerging leaders through the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, this new effort recognizes the need to expand and strengthen our Alumni network so that they might continue to exercise transformative leadership in the North American Jewish community.

Thanks to a unique partnership with the Jim Joseph Foundation, The Wexner Graduate Fellowship Mentorship Program provides a framework for younger alumni mentees to build their own capacity in their current roles by being matched up with experienced alumni mentors with a track record of success. This has the dual benefit of allowing our veteran alumni to advance their own ability to mentor and guide others while providing newer professionals with support as they grow into their own leadership.

Developed with the extensive input of alumni to program consultant and fellow Wexner Graduate Alumna Rae Ringel, each mentor-mentee pair will work together on an ongoing basis for a one-year period. In total 20 mentors and mentees will be paired each year for the next five years for a total of up to 200 leaders in the program and hundreds more experiencing the benefits of the growth of all of the professionals engaged.

Mentees will grow in three distinct areas:

a) Tactical (“how to” and management skills, e.g. fundraising, board development, supervision, etc.);
b) Transitional (moving in and out of professional scenarios and positions); and
c) Transformational (the sense of self that one brings to one’s work, e.g. leadership presence, executive voice, etc.)

Mentor volunteers will build coaching and supervisory skills that will help them be better mentors and lead more effectively in their professional and communal lives.

Mentors and mentees create mutually agreed-upon goals and expectations and hold one another accountable to the highest level of informed and committed participation. Recognizing that the effective mentor-mentee relationship is one of partnership, the mentees will drive the agenda of the interactions and the mentor nurtures growth without coercing change.

Chip Bell in his “Mentoring as Partnership” clearly spells out the nature of this relationship: “A mentor is simply someone who helps someone else learn something that he or she would have learned less well, more slowly or not at all, if left alone. Notice the power-free nature of this definition. Mentors are not power figures. Mentors are learning coaches – sensitive, trusted advisors … mentoring from a partnership perspective means, “We are fellow travelers on this journey towards wisdom.” Our mentors are on hand to ask the tough questions, guide mentees to see beyond one’s own perspective and develop strategies for moving forward in their professional lives.

A comment from one of the mentees : “It was incredibly refreshing to be able to talk with my mentor about the difference between adaptive and technical change, being on the balcony versus the dance floor, and thinking about how I can be a leader within a team environment. In the short time that my mentor and I spent together, I felt a sense of trust, collegiality, and chemistry that are all necessary for a successful mentoring relationship.”

And from one of the mentors: “It is a tremendous privilege to be invited to serve in the pilot class of Wexner mentors. My participation in the Wexner community has been deeply influential in my growth”and development. I am delighted to be able to  support a younger colleague by serving a sa mentor.”

Recognizing the singular role mentorship plays in the ongoing development of effective leaders, The Wexner Foundation President, Rabbi Elka Abrahamson, envisions generating a “best practice” mentorship model that can be used by other Jewish organizations and alumni communities. We believe that mentorship, both formally through programs like this and informally as so many of our colleagues are already engaged in meaningful ways, is crucial to supporting a continuing spirit of innovation and advancement in our communities. Existing concerns of next stage development for the many fledgling start-up efforts will be widely addressed through effective mentorship. Additionally, young professionals in more traditional organizational roles who are navigating the rapid and dramatic changes occurring in the Jewish community will be supported by having mindful and strategic mentors.

Cindy Chazan is Vice President of The Wexner Foundation and Director of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Mentoring Program.