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Mentoring within the party, and how local parties can support each other

Today is UK National Mentoring Day. It’s a day that recognises the value of mentoring – both for mentor and mentee. Speaking to my friends and colleagues – especially in the Young Liberals – I know that having a mentor in the party really makes a difference to young people’s experience. But it’s often down to chance that these relationships emerge. Mentoring can be really valuable – and so in this piece I am going to talk about what mentoring actually is, and how we can promote it in the party. This relationship doesn’t just need to be between individuals, but to an extent could also take place between clusters of local parties.

What is mentoring?

A mentor listens to and guides a mentee, and providing opportunities. Importantly, mentors also hold a mirror up to their mentees, enabling them to reflect on their actions and feelings. While similar, a mentor is not the same as a coach (who are also important). While coaches focus on short-term, task and skill-specific assistance, mentors play a role over a longer and broader horizon. Coaches help people skill up – mentors act as ambassadors and catalysts.

A system of mentoring

It’s not hard to see how people can benefit enormously from having a mentor. Being a mentor, as well, can be enormously rewarding for people.

But having a mentor in the party can often be down to which constituency you happen to live in. And while some manage to extend their network across the party (through a whole host of Facebook groups, or Regional/Federal meetings), there are only limited direct links to mentors. And what does exist often is not well known about. The Diversity Office in HQ, as well as Liberal Democrat Women and ALDC do offer mentoring – so if you’re not taking advantage of these yet , make sure you do!

What we would like to see is a structure for this taking place – or being encouraged – at local party level. For women this is especially important. As the US based She Should Run notes “We know that when women run for office they win at the same rates as men. Yet women are not encouraged and recruited at the same rate as men”. A visible system of mentorship is just one of many potential paths to improving diversity and representation within our party.

How local parties can support each other

We asked the question of how local parties could better support each other on our Facebook page last week. It generated some interesting responses, from pooling digital resources to helping promote and fill each other’s events. Mentorship is another way, and it could work in two ways:

Firstly, as a way of connecting would be mentees with would be mentors who would be the best fit with them. Not every local party is going to have experts across all policy fields, for instance. And as Mark Pack has said in his recent post about AGMs – lots of people join because of policy. Keeping our members interested and intellectually stimulated matters.

Secondly, our local parties need to do more to learn best practice from each other. An idea I am discussing with people at the moment is how local parties can pool their data from digital campaigns. Best email subject lines, best performing graphics, innovative tools for segmentation – these are all technical things which gain in accuracy the more data is plugged in. In other areas – such as learning how to engage your members, or helping our candidates really assume mantles of leadership – there’s huge potential.

Would thriving local parties be interested in supporting their smaller neighbours? What can smaller neighbours do to build these relationships? That’s another question.

We would love to hear from you on how local parties can better help each other, and on your experience as a mentor or mentee within the party.

Gareth Lewis Shelton is Director of Lib Dem Expand. You can follow him on Twitter at @garethlshelton.

LibDem Expand aims to build a ‘650 seat strategy’ for the Liberal Democrats, with no ‘no go areas’ and a message for every voter. Be part of the campaign. Subscribe to our updates, donate, or join.

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