Youth Employability – March 30 2020

“Sharing knowledge and smiles is food for the soul”: the power of mentorships

By Paula Jahn

Healthy relationships are the foundation of a young person’s capacity to develop self-esteem and confidence. But for many young people who grow up in care and without parental support, those valuable bonds are lacking throughout their youth.

Research has found that having a permanent and stable connection with at least one committed adult fosters improved success for young people who are transitioning from care to independence. For those who may not have this connection with their biological family, mentorship can provide an alternative.

Nelson Figueroa works as Commercial Director at Siegwerk, a global corporate partner of the YouthCan! youth employability programme of SOS Children’s Villages.  He also mentors 16-year-old Juan*, who lives in an SOS Children’s Village in Colombia.

“Young people without a doubt are the future of every society. And Colombia is no exception,” says Mr Figueroa.

“Mentoring has been so enriching and satisfying. To see the gratitude of young people and the effect on their future is very motivating,” Mr Figueroa says, reflecting on his mentoring experience. “Sharing knowledge and smiles is food for the soul.”

For 16-year-old Juan too, the mentoring experience has had a profoundly positive impact on his life.

“I acquired a lot of knowledge. This experience allowed me to focus on what I want to do and where I want to reach in life,” he says.

Juan says he was able to develop a range of skills that will help him in the future.

“I learned how to sell a product and how to do an interview, and also developed skills such as assertive communication and teamwork,” he says.

Mr Figueroa and Juan playing table football


Workplace mentorships have the potential to outgrow their professional nature, as the bond between Mr Figueroa and Juan shows.

“The role played by my mentor is that of a friend,” says Juan. “Apart from the mentoring, we also shared conversation and experiences through activities such as table football."

“Mentoring helped us get closer and get to know each other as people, and not just as a mentor and apprentice,” Juan adds.

But forming a stable and secure relationship between two strangers is not always easy. 

“Building trust with the young people was challenging,” says Mr Figueroa. “But achieving that trust is more than satisfactory,” he adds.

Part of building this trust is having a high level of tolerance, empathy and commitment, Mr Figueroa says.

For Juan, prudence, respect and good communication skills are crucial qualities a mentor should have.

“The greatest qualities of my mentor were the patience to listen and understand me,” Juan says of Mr Figueroa.

Mentoring is an enriching experience both for the mentor and mentee. In addition to improving the lives of young people, mentoring makes a lasting difference on society.

“If we can help improve the quality of life and expectations of just one person, we are contributing to society as a whole,” he says. “Society and family are the pillars of our future.”

*Name changed to protect his privacy