Bring Mentors Together

Convene your mentors before an event to learn from one another

At Mozilla, we help leaders champion internet health by teaching their communities about key issues like web literacy, digital inclusion, user privacy, decentralization of the web, and open innovation. Sometimes we do this through our advocacy work and online campaigns. Sometimes we do this through Hive communities, Mozilla Clubs and an open web literacy curriculum freely available to everyone. And sometimes we do this work in person, partnering at local events to work with network leaders and communities on the ground to solve problems related to internet health that matter to them.

For example, at the end of January, 2017, 6 mentors from Mozilla joined the SPARK youth hackathon at St. Anne’s-Belfield School (STAB) in Charlottesville, Virginia. Our mentors shared their expertise in design, education, project management, and technology with 66 students from 12 regional high schools. Mozilla, along with 3 other event sponsors, also pitched Internet of Things (IoT) design problems for attendees to solve in teams of 3 to 6 teens apiece.

Mentors and SPARK participants working on the Neighbor 2 Neighbor app

We challenged participants to design resilient, human-centered networks that reflected their interests and values and created trust between members. Five teams formed to tackle our challenge and produced these projects:

  • Cloud Hugs, a connected devices platform that lets people who suffer from mental illnesses share their needs with their support networks at the touch of a button on a key-chain or dog-tag-like pendant.
  • Neighbor 2 Neighbor (N2N), a matchmaking app that connects neighbors and builds a community “score” around sharing and passing on surplus resources within a neighborhood.
  • QuickPick, a matchmaking app that only collects data about what sport you’d like to play when and then finds other people in the area available for a pick-up game.
  • Trendi, a social shopping app that alerts you to popular items bought by friends and others you follow.
  • Ufund, a matchmaking app and connected device beacon that alerts and connects you to organizations you support in your community, other organizations like those your support that are nearby, and local merchants that offer discounts to people who use the app to donate to local organizations.

While teams’ interests ranged far and wide, each project reflected its makers’ intentionality in designing a network they would trust and use frequently. A good amount of testing and user research happened between groups throughout the weekend.

Core values from the Cloud Hugs project

A day before the event began, our Mozilla mentors met in Charlottesville for a “mentor jam,” a day-long convening for team-building and learning about the local community. The mentor jam is a practice we borrowed for SPARK from a previous IoT event held in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The mentor jam has become an important part of our capacity-building work to support locally partnered events. A mentor jam includes:

  • Orientation: Welcome your mentors. Explain the purpose, outcomes, and process of the event. Answer any questions they have that they need answered now to be present for the rest of the day.
  • Skillshare: Invite each mentor to prepare and deliver a skillshare. A skillshare is a 15–20 minute exercise that helps everyone in the room experience and better understand a mentor’s work and their passion for it. This is something you can help mentors prepare ahead of time with conversations, feedback, and templates as you recruit and prepare them for the event.
  • Tech tour: Work with your local partner to arrange a local tech tour as part of the mentor jam. Try to visit 3 to 4 nearby organizations that represent different facets of the local tech scene and present different kinds of opportunities for collaboration in the future. You might visit an educational non-profit working on computer science curriculum, a development studio, and a makerspace. Strive for variety, but don’t take too much time or travel too far. Try to end up back at your mentors’ hotel by the end of the tour so they can practice some self-care or explore on their own before dinner.
  • Dinner: While it’s important to feed and nourish your mentors throughout the day with coffee, tea, breakfast, and lunch, dinner out on the town give you the chance to socialize and learn about one another — and to experience the local community — outside the context of work. Find a spot with local flavor that reflects at least part of your organization’s culture so that mentors feel comfortable and treat your team.

When you spend the day before an event running and participating in a mentor jam, you help build trust between team members and surface potential collaborations between them. Mentors get both a better idea of who can help with what during the event and a better idea of how their own projects connect to each other’s work. They also form a community working to develop each member’s capacity for mentoring and managing local partnerships around events.

The collegiality fostered by a purposeful mentor jam creates a network of leaders who can advance the work and champion the values shared by you and your local partners. Mentors leave the jam ready to learn from one another during the event and into the future. They become the ambassadors, supporters, and wranglers of future events that can iterate and improve up your organization’s event-planning and mentorship practices.

Mozilla mentors workshop a project with SPARK participants

Looking ahead, think of ways to carry momentum forward from one event to the next. You might:

  • Schedule 1:1 debrief calls to ask what mentors took from the jam and the event and how they might improve both in the future.
  • Internally track and report out on the development of your cohort so your organization understands the work, knows how capable it is of replicating and spreading the work, and can identify leaders who can help case-make and plan future events with local partners.

There is a lot to plan for when you partner for a local event, but there’s a lot to gain from the experience, as well. it’s important to build capacity for this kind of work throughout your organization. Remember that you are not alone in the work and don’t forget the mentor jam!

Look for more reflections from SPARK soon about lessons learned and the work ahead.