I'm so amazed at the people I've met through blogging who are passionately interested in many of the topics I am! I met Lucy Hooberman and learned about her Mentoring Worldwide project at the Global s London Summit in December. I immediately signed up as a mentor! A few months later, Lucy and I attended the Netsquared conference and split a room - so we got a chance to know each other and learn more about our work.
How did you dream up the idea of Mentoring Worldwide?
I love the concept of "dreaming up" an idea! It's hard to pinpoint a moment in time but I can say that a combination of influences lead to this idea taking shape towards the end of 2005.
I read a lot of hype about the next phase of the web but at the same time we received stark messages about global fragility. I'm talking about the South East Asian Tsunami, Katrina, the earthquake in Pakistan as well as the poweful and continuing campaign to end poverty in Africa and the developing world. We saw an outpouring of generosity from the public both in terms of donations of money, but also a desire to help in whatever way people could. To the extent that it was not possible for agencies on the ground to spend all the money, nor possible for people to see where there money was going, nor was it possible for them to manage all the volunteers who wanted to go and help. I kept asking myself , what can I do? Could I go? If I went, what could I do?
Mentoring Worldwide was a personal and ethical response to living in an interdependent world and I think that is why so many people signed up to become mentors. And while I would never say that mentoring is a substitute for disaster planning and relief, it is clear that there is a demand and a role for mentors with skills to mentor people and projects in the developing world who might need those skills. Disaster or no disaster after a crisis there are many funded projects that could use a mentor, and many organisations who would welcome the expertise a mentor might provide to help an individual or project leader move forward. And there is a need too expressed by people to offer their expertise, knowledge, time and skills if there is someone who needs them, rather than their money alone.
It sounds a bit grandiose, but it felt like a small idea which if it worked could lead to a bigger change An idea which could lead to people doing just what they could from home, and helping out one person at a time, one project at a time. A kind of peer-to-peer process in which both parties will have much to learn.
How did you develop the idea?
I was very very lucky to be sent to a TED conference in early 2005 . TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. I had heard about the conference for years. The year I first went I was one of a hundred people to go on a breakfast brainstorm cruise around Monterey bay - something which is less appealing than it sounds if you have jet lag!
We had been asked to bring an idea to change the world (seriously) and the job was to convince ten people on your table that your idea was best, the convince the other 90. Well I was too British for all that early morning competitiveness and my global conversation and mentoring idea came to naught. But I plugged away and tried to get them interested in Pledgebank then a new tool developed by MySociety
To cut a long story short - about nine months later Chris Anderson (curator of TED) discovered Pledgebank for himself and wanted to promote it in the US. He challenged his amazing conference attendees to come up with an idea change the world. (Chris means business in this department. If you go to one of the conferences you will get the measure of his and the conference attendees ambitions.)
I wrote up my idea in terms of a pledge and posted it on his site and after it was chosen as a prize winner I had literally ten minutes to compose a pledge for pledgebank. I pledged to mentor two people in the developing world if 250 people joined me. 350 people signed up by the deadline and I further pledged to create a database to try and make this idea fly. He chose my idea and gave me £1,000 to start the project off.
Around the same time I went to a Global s Conference hosted by Reuters at Canary Wharf. I went as part of my work on citizens media for the BBC as I was working on a big project behind the scenes about how we could better engage with the blogosphere. When we were all introducing ourselves I mentioned the pledge and quite a few of the Global s people, including you, signed up too!.
Peter Gabriel is involved in a project to work with elder statesmen around the world as they have so much wisdom to offer and was kind enough to blog the plege on his website too - so it got quite a bit of attention.
We hit the 250 pledgers target a week before the pledge closed. In the last week a further 100 signed up - which proves what we say we know. That the web acts as an amplifer to our s - once things take off they take off. I was pleased to close the first pledge in mid January as I was concerened how many peoples expectations I had raised.
To make this dream a reality Chris Anderson supported the idea further by hosting a lunch for me, well for the idea at TED in February 2006. I was told there would be 30 people - not such a big deal I thought. But 90 showed up. Many of them have been in touch since with ideas for moving things forward, offers of help. Even the critical friends have been useful.
What do you find most exciting about the idea?
I am excited, but I am cautious! If that is a possible combination! I am excited at the chance to start small and see it grow. I am excited by the fact that so many people want to give it a go themselves. I really hope we can find a way of making it work as part of peoples busy lives and that we have a chance to proove the concept. I am much more excited than I am sounding here...
What are your next steps?
I have spoken to as many people as I can in the context of doing this in my so-called "spare time" I have done quite a bit of research and many many of the pledgers have sent me ideas, called me, told me their views. We have started a blog which is telling the story of the project, publishing research and ideas and letting people know how to get involved. Next step is to open up the group to those who want to discuss various aspects of the proposition. I have had many offers of help , people wanting to volunteer .
But we have needed to define a framework into which those offers can be made concrete. The most crucial thing we need to do is to run a trial. I'd like to test out some of our own claims, see what we can offer over the internet and phone across continents and cultures and see if it is of value. The parameters of the trial are being discussed now and then I hope the volunteers are still there to help run the trial and to mentor. It's been six months since the pledge, so some people will no doubt have lost interest - but I sincerely hope most will still want to mentor and some will want to help run the trial.
Can people still sign up to mentor?
The original pledge is closed but you can still get in touch if you would like to mentor. Or indeed if you want to help set up the next stage of the project or help with the trial. I am actually going to fundraise for a paid project manager to work with me and the other volunteers. We have to be realistic about peoples time. Most of the Tedsters and Global s pledgers and , indeed, others are already very busy and very motivated people - and they signed up to mentor not to set up a trial or new organisation
What other type of help do you need?
That is a great question. And the one I am most asked. I will need a web designer who is sensitive to cultural context and able to make the complex simple! I will eventually need help with fundraising once we have done our trial. I need someone to design us a leaflet - a real, printed leaflet that we can send people and leave on their desks! I am sure there will be many many more things and I will use our blog and mailing lists to keep people across what we need as we develop over time. I need a laywer who knows both the US and UK charity scene and can advise us on governance, and how best to set up, and who wants to help for free. If you can find us one of those then we will be eternally grateful!