Recently, I took the opportunity to sit down with Ken and take a look back at how it all started, and also find out Ken's views on the impact and the future of the IMP.
‘The program began in Kathmandu, Nepal and Siem Reap, Cambodia. Luckily I had some personal contacts in those places willing to coordinate the programs there. The key challenges then were really the same as today – getting the right mentees and the right mentors, resourcing the program, and finding the best ways to support the mentor partners during the 5 months of their partnerships. In the first year, 2012, it was new to everyone. There was no precedent to follow, no program like this had been run internationally. So we had to deal with the issues as they emerged. However, because there was good ownership of the program by the in-country coordinators they offered many solutions to the problems as they emerged.’
What was the most important learnings from that first couple of years?
‘We all learned very quickly that both mentees and mentors needed a lot more structure in the program than we provided in the first year. Focusing on personal development was not enough. Mentees often needed guidance in providing the questions and mentors needed more structure and a framework within which they could work. In the second year, the program coordinator in Kathmandu, Jayaram Poudel, suggested that mentees should work on a community-based project. This suggestion was welcomed by the Cambodian program, which now also included the capital city Phnom Penh. The introduction of the mentees' projects was the most significant development of the IMP and continues to be a major element of the program.
We also learned that the number of mentor pairs is important. In the first year we welcomed all mentee applicants. We had high attrition rates and quickly realised the recruitment and selection process was critical. The program now includes a maximum of about 12 mentor pairs in each of the three locations.’
Is there any one mentee or project that has really stayed with you over the years?
‘Projects where mentees were very clear about their purpose, and enthusiastic in planning and delivering it – and where mentors have engaged in the project and guided and encouraged in a way that empowers the mentee to learn from the experience – have been inspirational.’
‘I’ll give you just a few examples:
- The project to improve the lives and welfare of Kathmandu’s street dogs was a wonderful team effort between the mentee's team with the support of his mentor – who continues to maintain close contact with the mentee.
- The Siem Reap project to enhance the human resources function of the mentee's community organisation made an enormous contribution, thanks to the very sensitive and committed way in which the mentor shared her considerable organisational development knowledge.
- Likewise, the stand-out project from 2016 in Siem Reap, the 'Bookstreet' project was remarkable. The mentee was very well supported by his mentor, from Insync, which was the sole program sponsor for 2016. The mentee was very capably supported by former mentees and the program manager. The collaboration and teamwork enabled the mentee to learn a great deal about project management, working with teams and education.
- The Phnom Penh project run by a young mentee who had been trying to get into the program for 3 years was quite remarkable. Her resilience and relentless enthusiasm for creating awareness among young people about the need for more environmental knowledge had a big impact on her community.
‘An understanding of what life-long learning really means is passion of mine and closely connected to my interest in mentoring over the past 30 years. Mentees who really grasp the concept and apply it have demonstrated how it paves the way for future success. Connected with this is the importance of a sense of hope. Despite their high levels of education and ability to communicate in a number of languages, many mentees still need a lot of support in feeling hopeful about their future and that of their struggling country. The political and economic situation of both Cambodia and Nepal continues to provide significant challenges for young people. Where mentors really understand these aspects of the program and work with their mentees' needs, magic happens.’
Now that the handover to the new team is complete, what advice do you have for them moving forward?
‘The most critical element of the program now is the extent to which the program is resourced. There are three outstanding program managers in each of the three locations. The new Program Director Dr Shayne Silcox and the Program Manager Mizanar Rahman from LG Professionals have a great understanding of the program. However, the program will only achieve a small percentage of its potential if the deep pockets of a willing sponsor can't be picked. Mentees' projects must be resourced and the in-country Program Managers' time must be remunerated. Love for the program can only go so far.’
What does the future hold for you?
‘I am still in contact with several former mentees, and I am considering returning to study in some form, to use the knowledge I have gained from 5 years working with the IMP. And of course, I’ll continue to travel, enjoy our 4 grandchildren, go to the cinema and do some gardening.’
Sounds wonderful, Ken. Best of luck to you!!