Core tasks of a mentor in European Solidarity Corps activities | Mentoring under Construction
What are the core tasks of a mentor? – The Mentoring and Coaching under Research (2023) pointed out a lack of clarity when it comes to the job profile of a mentor. This blog post summarises the various perspectives of this research: mentoring approaches of publications and inquiries with practitioners in the field.
The content of this blog post has been created in the context of Mentoring under Construction. Mentoring under Construction is a community for mentoring practitioners within the European Solidarity Corps programme.
A mentor is a support person that assist young people during their volunteering journey within the European Solidarity Corps (ESC) programme. Over the years, task by task has been added to the job profile of a mentor and now, being a mentor is often compared to the one of a superhero. On tope of that, the list of tasks has led to a certain unclarity of what exactly are the tasks of a mentor.
This lack of clarity is also pointed out by the Mentoring and Coaching under Research [McuR] which brought together different perspectives: mentoring approaches and tools in publications (desktop research), as well as inquiries with practitioners in the ‘ (expert interviews and surveys).
Understanding mentoring in volunteering activities
Over the years, a broad variety of resources about mentoring in volunteering projects appeared aiming to close the gap the programme guide left and bring some clarity to the field. Manuals, guidebooks, toolkits and other supporting materials introduce various understandings of mentoring and shape different mentoring approaches. They provide organisations with recommendations how to implement mentoring and equip mentors with tools and resources to work with.
The Mentoring and Coaching under Research report (2023) is listing a selection of publications on the understanding of mentoring. Mentoring means:
- “… supporting volunteers’ personal adjustment into the new environment, integration into the receiving organisation and assisting with the intercultural learning process.” (The Hopscotch to Quality in EVS 2.0, 2015)
- “… helping the volunteer to adapt to their new environment and [assisting] them in monitoring their progress with the … project in general.” (Hands-On Guide to Mentoring in EVS projects, 2012)
- “… [supporting] the volunteer in his/her learning process and [guiding them] in the unknown world of the hosting country.” (Be the Hero, Be an EVS Mentor!, 2013)
- “… [helping] enhance their learning processes and to ensure an overall qualitative and satisfying project experience.” (Treasure Box for Mentors and other Support-Persons in ESC Volunteering Projects, 2019)
- “… [supporting] the … volunteer during his/her stay in foreign country and [helping] him/her with integration in the local community (support by finding friends, meeting of people from the local community, understanding local habits, traditions and culture).” (The EVS Galaxy Guidebook for EVS Coordinators, 2016)
- “… [helping] to reflect learning process, including intercultural aspects of [the volunteering] experience and [giving] support to … volunteer in case of conflict/crisis situations.” (The EVS Galaxy Guidebook for EVS Coordinators, 2016)
- “… [guiding] the volunteer in the hosting country and culture.” (The EVSification Manual, 2016)
- “… [supporting] their volunteers/ friends socially, emotionally, culturally and learning-wise.” (The EVSification Manual, 2016)
- “… supporting the young volunteer in leaving home, settling into the new country and in returning home.” (Mentoring Guide, 2019)
The role of a mentor is described as someone who is supporting, helping or guiding the volunteer. His/her activities circle around three areas: supporting with the integration into the local community and culture, helping with difficulties and problems and facilitating the learning process.
However, those mentoring practices might not appear in all volunteering projects. According to the Mentoring and Coaching under Research report (2023, p.31), the role of mentors depends often on:
- the understanding of mentoring by the host organisation, including the required task profile of a mentor, the selection process, the preparation for this role, etc.,
- the capacity of mentors to fulfil their role as mentors and develop mentoring competences, like language skills, interest/motivation, time availability, motivation/readiness to learn and acquire necessary mentoring skills, and
- the mentoring practice (mentoring relationship, topics addressed, meeting frequency, etc.).
If it is up the organisation to define the role of mentors and specify their tasks and responsibilities the overall variety of mentoring practices within the European Solidarity Corps programme is enormous. It gives a lot of flexibility to organisations in implementing mentoring according to their needs. On the other side new mentors in the field lack clear guidelines and orientation about their role and tasks as a mentor.
Mentoring – a support and quality measure of the European Solidarity Corps
The European Solidarity Corps Programme Guide (edition 2023) sees mentoring as a support and quality measure that is required if organisations want to implement volunteering projects within the programme. Although the programme guide stresses the value of mentoring, it is outlined in just a couple of sentences:
Obviously, the description of mentoring is very vague and insufficient if you want to shape a mentoring programme within your organisation. Its a starting point, but lacks clarity on the mentors’ tasks and responsibilities. Mentoring according to the programme guide focusses mainly on two aspects: the personal well-being of the volunteer and the learning process and outcomes.
Core tasks and non-core tasks of mentors
The need for clarity about the role and tasks of a mentor on one side and the need for flexibility having a tailor-made implementation of mentoring in volunteering organisations seems to be incompatible goals.
One way of balancing the need for clarity and the need for flexibility is choosing a middle ground: define and specify mentors role and tasks on a Europe-wide level and leave a door open to flexible implementations of mentoring on an organisational/local level. A way to find this middle ground is to differentiate between core tasks and additional (or non-core) tasks:
- Core tasks and responsibilities refer to mentoring activities that essential for the quality of a volunteering project. They contribute to the value of the service both for the organisation and the volunteer.
- Additional (or non-core) tasks and responsibilities refer to all other day-to-day activities of a mentor that are not essential, but can add additional value to a volunteering project.
Possible core tasks of ESC mentors
What tasks and responsibilities should be considered as core tasks of mentors? – This is definitely open for discussion. The Mentoring and Coaching under Research brings together three different perspectives: the review of mentoring in publications (see above), focus interview with experts and results of a survey.
- Reviewing publications on mentoring the research finds three reoccurring tasks: supporting with the integration into the local community and culture, with dealing with difficulties and problems and with the learning process.
- According to expert interviews (MCuR 2023, p.42) there are four main tasks: integration, trouble-shooting / crisis management and learning support. Mediation is seen as an extremely important function, however it is one that would require an advanced level of skill and expertise.
- The survey (MCuR 2023, p.42) shows the top five functions of mentoring that are considered as absolutely essential: supporting volunteer’s motivation throughout the project, his/her well-being, the integration of the volunteer in the local community, solving conflicts between a volunteer and host organisation, and the volunteer’s learning.
Core tasks of a mentor
Based on this, I would propose the following three core-tasks:
- supporting the transition to or integration into a new environment,
- helping the volunteer to deal with difficulties and problems, and
- facilitating the learning process of the volunteer.
These three core tasks are essential to get a volunteering project running. At the same time they are manageable for new mentors who just embark in their mentoring journey.
The research mentions also mediation and crisis management. Although this task is of enormous importance, I personally wouldn’t add this to the core tasks of a mentor. Mediation and especially crisis intervention is something that mentors need additional experience and competence. It is either a task a mentor grows into over several years of mentoring practice or it could be delegated to another (entl. external) expert.
Additional tasks of a mentor
As we said, additional (or non-core) tasks and responsibilities refer to all other mentoring activities. They are not essential, but can add additional value to the volunteering project. Such tasks could be:
- Supporting implementation of tasks (reinforced mentorship)
- Managing volunteering teams and groups (mentoring volunteering teams)
- Mediation in conflicts
- Encouraging volunteers to act towards community impact
- Enhancing volunteer’s solidarity awareness
- Supporting the project team in the implementation of the project
- and so on
There are two more aspects to take in consideration:
Reinforced mentorship – Reinforced mentorship is not an extra task of a mentor (and therefore does not translate into an additional core task), but it means a different quality of mentoring practices, a more intensive support and guidance. In that sense reinforced mentorship adds to all other core tasks. And it as well requires often additional competences.
Volunteering teams (or groups of volunteers) require an additional core task which could be named “managing volunteering teams”, which includes facilitating the team process (team building, team cooperation and peer learning).
Core tasks of mentors in your organisation
Last, but not least, there is another option to gain more clarity: as an organisation you could define the core tasks needed for your organisational context.
Which tasks would you choose as core tasks for your mentor?
A summary of the main insights, as blog post and as infographic: Mentoring and Coaching under Research. Insights | BlogPost
Infographic: Mentoring and Coaching under Research | Infographic
The full research report: Corina Pintea, Marzena Ples and Darko Markovic: Mentoring and Coaching within the European Solidarity Corps. Common Practices under Research; OeAD-GmbH, Vienna, 2023