The blog post below was contributed on June 3, 2020 by Soni Dasmohapatra, Zohreh Saher, and Larissa Kho.
Why an Edmonton Heritage Council (EHC) mentorship program
In the summer of 2019, while coordinating the Heritage Community Investment Program during a maternity leave coverage, Soni Dasmohapatra initiated a mentorship pilot project. This initiative brought to life one of the key Actions of the City of Edmonton’s Connections & Exchanges: A 10-Year Plan to Transform Arts and Heritage in Edmonton. The plan recommends that mentorship programs should be available in the Heritage sector to build organizational and individual professional capacity for Heritage professionals to aid with succession and sustainability planning in the sector. The work Soni did to prototype a program provides a good practice model for mentorship that considers the unique needs of Edmonton’s Heritage ecosystem. This blog post outlines the creation and development of the pilot mentorship program that ran from June 2019 to December 2019.
Presentation and Partnership with interVivos
Soni realized that in order for a mentorship program to be successful in such a short time, it would be best to seek the advice and mentorship of existing programs in the city. interVivos has run a mentorship program that has become well known and effective. Soni and other staff had previously taken part as protégés. Soni approached interVivos’ president, Zohreh Saher, who suggested that she present to the interVivos board why this was a good idea for both organizations to build a relationship around.
Soni presented to the interVivos board in the summer of 2019, and they quickly decided it was a good partnership to pursue. interVivos has had hundreds of mentors and protégés go through their mentorship programs over the past 14 years. Though their mentorship programs are not industry-specific, interVivos saw this as an opportunity to apply their format to assist a specific sector and to explore new ways the program can run. It was also a great way to partner with a former interVivos protégé to give back to the community.
Both organizations saw the value of sharing resources to run a pilot mentorship program for the Heritage sector.
Mentor Selection Process
Agreeing to partner was just the beginning. The EHC approached a group of established heritage practitioners and asked them to serve as mentors. The selection of this group was grounded in a commitment to ensuring equity and diversity were factors in mentor recruitment. It was important to EHC that the final mentor cohort consisted of individuals of different ages, gender, ethnocultural, and Indigenous backgrounds. These individuals also had to be involved professionally in different ways and lengths of time in Edmonton’s heritage sector. The selected seven mentors brought diverse experiences that spanned from careers in the museum sector, archiving, historical documentation, contemporary heritage practice, and engagement of heritage communities. All the mentors shared one thing in common: they all had careers that required them to consider diverse backgrounds, which included experiences of ethnocultural and Indigenous communities.
Protégé Selection Process
An open call for Expressions of Interest was sent out to recruit protégés. All together there were eleven strong submissions from protégé applicants who were interested in the program. Due to the positive response to the pilot and the interest from one mentor to take on a group of protégés, all protégé applicants were accepted into the program.
interVivos mentored EHC in developing a program and hosting the mentor and protégé matching event. The event took place at the Aviary on September 26, 2019.
The interVivos matching event model has mentors set up at a table around the room while protégés move around to each to meet each mentor for a set amount of time (anywhere between 5-8 minutes). This has proven to turn out successful matches as it allows each mentor and protégé to meet and ask questions before making their selections on who they would like to be matched with. interVivos has found that by allowing for this kind of engagement, it allows selections to be made more confidently than if they were chosen based solely on a written bio alone. With EHC having more protégés than mentors, it was a challenge to figure out the logistics of providing an engaging and positive event. Overall, interVivos and EHC found that by providing a group table where protégés who weren’t meeting with a mentor during a given round allowed for more networking and reflection for the protégés, and also helped strengthen the sense of community the mentorship program was intended to build.
Post-event and Matching
Once the EHC mentors and protégés were matched, they met three times to discuss:
- Personal goals and ideas about building the heritage sector
- Changes that need to be made in the heritage sector for sustainability
- Other topics that came up as a part of their meetings.
Overall, the matches were able to build community dialogue and discussion points that informed how they could build further opportunities and support the growth of the heritage sector in Edmonton. Each member who participated in this pilot project valued the lessons learned and the relationships built to implement new and innovative ideas that can sustain the heritage sector.
A final event, marked by reflection and celebration, was held at the Nook Café on December 18, 2019. The evaluation method used was an interactive model. The participants were asked to think about where they started, what they learned as they went through the journey, and the final outcomes and recommendations are for the Edmonton Heritage Council to refine and build out the mentorship pilot project into a sustained program.
- Each protégé was presented with a certificate to recognize their contribution to the mentorship program. The certificate provides the protégés with a professional reference they can use to build their careers in the heritage sector. This outcome provides a foundation and recognition to establish the professionalization of the sector.
- One mentor noted that this is an excellent program and should be continued. They underscored the importance of teaching each protégé how to use archives to support heritage work. This outcome provides a foundation for skills development in research, archiving, and documentation of the sector.
- One of the matches identified a gap and spoke extensively of bringing the sector up to date by infusing technology into program planning and organizational development for heritage organizations and heritage practitioners. This outcome emphasizes the importance and value of embracing technology in heritage practice so that content can be shared across different mediums to reach different Edmonton audiences.
- Another match shared that there is a need for the heritage sector to consider factors of equity in who has access to making a career in this field, prompting the questions of whose voices are highlighted and which voices are missing and continue to be excluded. The recommendation was made that our sector needs to build stronger engagement and relationships with Indigenous heritage practitioners and communities. This outcome provides a foundation for identifying barriers and creating solutions for exclusionary practices in Edmonton’s heritage sector..
Overall, the pilot mentorship program was a success and provided good practice to implement for developing capacity building programs to support the sustainability of the heritage sector. Both mentors and protégés indicated that if this EHC program were to run again, it would be beneficial to have a longer program that included opportunities for formal professional development and networking for both parties involved. Other topics for future advocacy and considerations that were mentioned included pay equity, job security and health benefits. The partnership with interVivos was a great example of how organizations can maximize resources and learnings. Together, EHC and interVivos were able to share best practices to build the heritage sector’s capacity. Ultimately, we will build on this foundation to implement programs that lead to sustainability and future planning inclusive of diverse voices in Edmonton.
To find out more about the interVivos mentorship program, please visit: intervivos.ca/mentorship/. A new program is launching online in the coming weeks.