Mentorship that makes a difference

19 July 2018
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Sabrina Zuchello, Grants Manager 
Union for International Cancer Control

Recruiting motivated mentors 

What struck me the most when I started receiving the first answers from experts invited to become mentors as part of the SPARC initiative was their level of enthusiasm. When I joined UICC a few months ago, one of my first tasks was to pair up 20 new projects addressing metastatic breast cancer with international experts from the UICC community. I wondered how to best engage these mentors and how they would respond to the invitation. Would mentors, with their full schedules, be willing to freely give away their time and expertise to support projects in the early stages of development? To my delight (and to the project leaders’), many mentors were honoured and excited to take on this role.

The value of mentorship 

Mentorship is extremely valuable in ensuring project successes, and this is particularly true for regions facing important challenges. Kimberly Badal, Co-founder and Executive Director of Caribbean Cancer Research Initiative, has recently been awarded a SPARC grant to introduce patient navigation in the Caribbean. She describes how important mentorship is for her and for her project:

Working in a developing country can be very mentally challenging due to the many disappointments, delays and setbacks. For me, my mentor was valuable in lending a perspective from their own experience working in developing countries. The greatest challenge for my project thus far is the delay with ethics committees. My mentor assured me that she also experienced significant delays with ethics committees.”

Adriana Melnic, Executive Director of Societatea Romana de Cancer, has received a SPARC grant to launch a project aiming at improving the quality of life for metastatic breast cancer patients in Romania. She states:

A long-distance mentoring relationship is a unique opportunity for us to access experience, knowledge and support for our projects that we wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise."

But what motivates busy experts to become mentors to project leaders starting new initiatives? How do project leaders value mentorship? I decided to interview a mentor and mentee pair from Mexico to find out more. 

Laura and Alejandra: a mentee-mentor perspective 

Laura Suchil, oncologist at the Instituto Nacional de Cancerología of Mexico (mentor), and Alejandra de Cima, President and Founder of Fundación CIMA(mentee), share their experience of mentorship. Laura has been supporting Alejandra since her organisation has received a SPARC grant in 2015. Thanks to the SPARC grant, Fundación CIMA was able to create and launch the Tanto por Hacer platform to address an information gap for metastatic breast patients in Latin America. It provides patients and their families with information on nutrition, sexuality, palliative care and patients’ rights to help them achieve a better quality of life.

What motivated you to become a SPARC mentor

Laura Suchil (mentor): “To me, there is nothing more invigorating than being in front of motivated advocates, and trying to help them to achieve their goals of building successful projects. I am happy to contribute learnings from my career to help mentees get up the learning curve faster. Mentoring is not just useful for the person we are assisting; it is great for me in a variety of ways. Mentoring provides that wonderful feeling you get when you help someone and make a difference in his or her life. Mentoring also inspires fresh ideas since I step out of my normal circle of colleagues and associates.”

"Mentoring provides that wonderful feeling you get when you help someone and make a difference in his or her life. Mentoring also inspires fresh ideas since I step out of my normal circle of colleagues and associates.”

What support have you brought to your mentee?

Laura Suchil (mentor): “My objective was to help prevent project failure and improve management and skills of grantee. I helped Alejandra set clear goals for activities and outcomes, guide the agenda, provide a sense of purpose and helped her see the big picture. I offered my advice and when necessary I asked questions to make the mentee think and come up with a solution herself.”

What support did you get from your mentor?

Alejandra de Cima (mentee): “Organisations like Fundación CIMA, and by that I mean a rather small organisation facing a huge problem, need to be seen and advised from an overall perspective by people and institutions like the Mexican Cancer Institute with the credentials, experience and back up to guide and advise in a supportive manner. Our mentor has provided great guidance and support to Fundación CIMA. The organised and well planned structure of our project is the result of hours of common work and brainstorming to figure out the very specific characteristics, needs and contents of the project. In the planning phase, it is very important to be advised by someone with expertise and knowledge like our mentor Laura Suchil, someone who after so many years of dedication to the cause knows what will make a difference and what could only be a repetition of past intents and therefore not worth trying.”

What are the characteristics of a good mentee/mentor relationship?

Laura Suchil (mentor): “The best relationships are reciprocal, and I have an excellent relationship with Alejandra de Cima. We have worked together for many years developing projects that contributed to the early diagnosis, treatment and quality of life of women with breast cancer in Mexico. I am very proud of the work she has done.” 

Alejandra de Cima (mentee): I think a good mentor is someone who passionately cares and believes in what your organisation is doing. It is someone who encourages your initiative and trusts your ways. A good mentor is someone who, regardless of his or her full agenda, always finds the time to return your calls or emails. And of course, it is someone who shares your enthusiasm for the cause that moves us.”

I think a good mentor is someone who passionately cares and believes in what your organisation is doing." 

Ingredients for a mentorship that makes a difference

What I liked about the mentorship relationship between Laura and Alejandra is that it models key ingredients for a strong and effective mentor-mentee relationship:

Reciprocity: Each party is actively engaged in working together. It’s a two-way relationship were both parties are committed and invest time together. Both parties benefit from the relationship: the mentee is gaining from the perspective and experience of the mentor, and the mentor gets inspired by a fresh new perspective. He/she gets to increase his/her impact through mentorship.

Matching criteria: It is important that mentors and mentees are paired according to a common area of work and interest. In SPARC, we also take into consideration the regional area in which projects operate to find mentors based locally, or who are familiar with the local context. 

Believe in each other: The mentee acknowledges the expertise of the mentor and is ready to take into account constructive feedback. The mentor sees the potential of the project leader and of the project, and believes that it can achieve great results. 

Discover the list of the SPARC mentors for the 2017-2018 cohort, as well as more about SPARC projects here

About the author

Sabrina Zucchello has been working in philanthropy for the last 10 years, developing local capacity building initiatives involving the business sector, non-for-profits and private donors. She has joined UICC in 2018 as a grant manager and is overseeing the SPARC initiative.

Last update: 
Friday 7 June 2019