“We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.” ~ Winston Churchill
When thinking back to the email she received three years ago about the work of an organization in Chile called Sociedad Activa, Macarena Aránguiz Valero, says “Sometimes we just work and work…I thought it would be a great way to develop personally and contribute to the society outside of work.” The email was inviting Macarena, an IBM professional who supports business partner education in IBM’s Spanish South America market, to be a mentor.
What Mario Espinoza Mañan, an IBM technology service coordinator in Chile, recalls are the opportunities he was given in his youth and the strong desire now to return the favor. As he says, “I want to give and create chances for other people.”
Since 2008, both Macarena and Mario have been mentors to teenage students at the Colegio Cardenal Caro near Santiago, Chile; the school where Sociedad Activa thought the two could be valuable in helping the young people with career decisions.
A vital relationship
Research has shown that teenagers who have a sustained mentoring relationship do better in education, mental health, problem behavior, and health (National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, DuBois & Silverthorn, 2005). One of the success factors is that the relationships endure over a period of time, at least greater than six months, and preferably more than a year.
Both Mario and Macarena have been mentors at the school for several years, meaning they have had time to develop excellent rapport with their mentees. “One of my students is a very sensitive and thoughtful girl,” says Macarena. “Over the time we’ve been together she’s said she’s learned to set goals in her life, and strive to achieve them, and that having a mentor has given her guidance and empowerment, but mainly friendship.”
In some cases the mentors have an initial meeting with family members of the young person they will mentor. Mario tells the story of the emotional talk with his new mentee’s father, saying “He told me that his son is everything to him, but because [the father] works outside the city there are long periods when he cannot be there.”
Mario continues, “I’ll never forget that the father told me because he only went up to sixth grade he cannot help his son with school and that the mother also didn’t finish school. Then he asked, if I could be the one to help the boy get through these important years. That’s when I really understood how vital the mentoring relationship can be.”
Dreams and opportunities
The core of an effective mentoring relationship is a connection between the mentor and the mentee—there must be trust, respect and understanding. Macarena describes the process as mostly listening very closely to what is said. “We begin talking about our lives, the way she sees the world, the things she’s good at and the things she wants to improve.”
Macarena believes that even though they may not realize it, at this point, young people are making important choices about their future. “I want to learn about her dreams for the future, and somehow let her know that she has the right to have dreams. I think it’s also good to say that a person can be whatever they want, that their future is not defined for them.”
In the program with Colegio Cardinal Caro school there is both a practical side and a fun side to the twice a month mentoring meetings.
Some of the students are studying telecommunications and one event involved showing them the IBM data center in Santiago. Mario says the teens were amazed and impressed to see such a complex operation, “I’m hopeful they also understood they have the opportunity to work in a place like this one day. It’s important to show them what is possible, and show them a vision.”
Another event was a bowling party to relax and get to know each other, and to “just be friends,” as Macarena says.
Whether bowling or getting a glimpse of high technology, Mario believes “to be a mentor is to be a creator of opportunities.”
A life by what we give
Mentors are not parents—they play different roles, but both require sacrifice on some level, notably in personal time. In the case of Mario and Macarena, they are giving their time to their mentees and also to children of their own; Mario is the father of a young girl, and Macarena is the mother of a boy and girl.
Despite their busy professional and personal schedules, mentoring is now an integral part of what they have chosen to give back to the world. “Being a mentor is a way of life for me now. ” says Macarena. “I have many things going on, but this is a commitment.”
IBM is marking its centennial year with a worldwide celebration of volunteer service. Throughout 2011, IBM invites everyone to join our global community of employees, retirees, families and friends as we support the communities where we work, live and learn together.