“That part of the city is known as a dangerous zone because of violence, drugs and poverty,” says Arturo Otto, a procurement professional for IBM in Santiago, Chile, referring to an area in south Santiago where the 16 year old student he’s mentoring attends school.
In May, 2013 Arturo started his fifth mentor relationship—some of which had been through the MentorPlace tool, a volunteer program that virtually connects adult professionals with students in online relationships focused on academics. Arturo’s newest mentor arrangement would be an in-person experience.
“There are two main reasons why I’ve been excited to participate in this program,” he explains. “One is to share my experience with younger generations which don't have the chance to learn about formal work and professional environments, like what we have at IBM. Second is for me to learn about the situation and reality of others—a reality that is different from mine.”
For example, Arturo describes the reality of his mentee includes personally knowing gang members and contending with violence on a daily basis—a reality familiar to Arturo mostly from television. “Also, girls become mothers much too young, at the age of thirteen or fourteen; this is not typical in my environment, but in my mentee’s daily life it is very usual,” Arturo says.
Learning about another way of life—mentor and mentee
The six month mentoring program—from May through October—is coordinated by United Way of Chile for Colegio Cardenal Caro schools. Arturo was joined by other volunteers from IBM and companies such as Proctor and Gamble, 3M and Xerox to form a group of almost 75 mentors.
Each company volunteer was matched with a student and asked to form a one-to-one relationship designed to give personalized guidance to the student about vocational training, academic performance and work opportunities—while also conveying that adults do care about the issues and concerns of young people.
“Students and their parents have a lot of hope in the mentoring program,” Arturo believes. “The parents are doing their best to give their children the opportunity to study, but they are not sure if the environment where they live and interact supports professional development—you know, the kids might believe that selling drugs is a better way to make money than succeeding in school. So they expect mentoring might help their son or daughter learn about another way of life.”
The topics Arturo covered with his mentee specifically related to the student’s future as a worker or professional—including asking how the young man saw himself in two, five and ten years, and who he admires and why. Arturo says that with this exercise and others, he was able to learn about the values and objectives important to his student.
Arturo then tailored the information he shared about the professional work environment, how to interact in situations, and what options are available for education, including applying for loans to finance studies and requirements for the “beca” (tuition-free scholarships for high performing students).
“My hope for my mentee is that he can continue studying, get a good job and improve his life and help his family do the same.”
Putting the client first—in all walks of life
Earlier in 2013, Arturo had an opportunity to experience yet another way of life, this time in South Africa as part of IBM’s Corporate Service Corps. “I like to participate in social programs and IBM is helping me do that,” Arturo says. “I believe that if I have the chance, I must take it.”
He equates the IBM practice of putting the client first as an important lesson in learning how to best communicate with people of different backgrounds—whether it’s counseling a young student from a poorer section of his city, or designing solutions for women-owned businesses in Johannesburg, South Africa.
“With the student, I have to modify my speech in order to be more understandable and be less technical when I express my ideas to him,” Arturo says. “In the same way, I know it’s necessary to find common ground and references when working with our colleagues and clients around the world—it’s wonderfully exciting to me.”
“I know that my regular life is not representative of full Chilean society—no one gets to choose where they are born—I’m lucky to have the opportunities I have had. Because of this, I need to learn more about what is happening all around me—with those less fortunate than me in my own city and also around the world.”
Arturo adds, “My role as a mentor is to motivate a young person to continue their studies to get better chances to work and improve their life—I love that, and it also motivates me.”