Students paved way for organisational change
What do students today think about sustainability? What are the practices within a company for pursuing sustainability issues? This and much more were discussed by the participants in the latest round of reverse mentorship.
The reversed mentorship match leaders from companies and organizations (mentees) with students (mentors) who are passionate about sustainability work in order to exchange ideas and experiences about sustainability and sustainable development during the semester. Students Annika Drube and Jonas Kreutzer, and working professional Moa Persdotter were asked to give their view.
Why did you get involved in the Reverse Mentoring?
Annika Drube: I found Vinnova interesting as a mentorship partner. I was curious about the way they work with innovation and sustainability, and as an international student, it was also cool to get a glimpse of how a Swedish organisation works. I also liked to be in a team with another student, it made for better discussions and new perspectives.
Jonas Kreutzer: I always thought the reversed mentorship sounded interesting. I knew my mentee Moa from before, so it was particularly nice to get into this mentorship.
Moa Persdotter: A lot of reasons. I have some previous experience with mentoring and have always found it so rewarding. At the time of the mentorship, I was getting into a new role as team manager for sustainability support at Vinnova. I don´t have an education in sustainability of my own, but I have studied political science and came into sustainability from a social perspective. The focal point of my work is equality.
When I heard about the opportunity to enter reversed mentoring with sustainability as a theme, it felt like good timing. Both with the skills my mentors have, but also that I have a favourable experience with the format from before.
Besides their competence in sustainability, I appreciated that they could look at the problem with a fresh set of eyes. It´s easy to find yourself too close to home and stop asking the right questions. The mentorship allowed me to go through it with my mentors, which made it possible for me to ask better questions within my organisation.
How confident have you been in your role as mentor/mentee?
A: It was a new situation, but when we started working it felt more like all of us were on the same level rather than us being her mentors.
J: Since I knew Moa from a previous volunteering position, I knew there was nothing to be nervous about. Moa was a fantastic mentee who made us feel appreciated and valued from the start, despite every meeting being online due to Covid. That really helped with balancing our ambition and workload.
M: My view of mentorship is that age is just a number and that what competence can be defined as is very broad. I didn´t go into the mentorship thinking I knew more just because I am working, and my mentors are currently studying. But I will say that it was kind of nice when you get a role description so that you go into it with a certain approach. My mindset beforehand was that I was going to learn, which made it possible for me to get comfortable in that role. As students, they have the newest knowledge, so it was a useful benchmarking experience. As both had an international education, their perspective was holistic. Being able to see your organisation with the help of someone from the outside is so valuable.
I strongly agree with the maxim that the more different you are, the bigger your valuable exchange can be.
You get to see yourself through the eyes of someone else and that is a luxury.
- Moa Persdotter, mentee
What did you discuss?
A: We got to be part of an ongoing change project on how to incorporate sustainability in Vinnova´s assignment descriptions.
J: I and Annika met up beforehand to discuss what we could offer Moa. We realised that we weren’t going to be able to give her good advice on specifics. Instead, we decided to use our bachelor's majors as a starting point. Basically, we made crash courses based on our respective majors around themes like “What to understand when doing change processes”. It was a lot of fun looking back at the bachelor's and seeing how that knowledge can be implemented. It was also fun to learn from Moa and see how quick she was able to implement her learnings in the organisation.
M: We discussed organisational structure quite a bit, to see how my new team would fit into Vinnova´s complex structure. My mentors had not only studied sustainability, but Annika also studied organisational structure and Jonas had studied psychology. We discussed how to build the team structure in different ways, and how sustainability can be applied by looking at questions like: Should it be in teams? Should it be integrated? Should it be both at the same time and if so, how?
I can see a clear line from my discussions with the mentors to how my team works today.
What has reverse mentoring brought you?
A: It was a confidence boost, in the beginning, I was hesitant as to what I could bring to the table for someone with more experience, but already at the first meeting I was asking questions and giving input. It was also a nice experience to see how down-to-earth she was and to get a better feel of what working life in Sweden could look like.
J: When you study and mostly move within the same circles, it can be easy to forget that others outside that circle don’t have the same knowledge. To hear that my insights are useful to someone working on sustainability challenges in a real-world impactful setting was nice.
M: We also work with academia, so besides the effects for my team, in particular, the reversed mentorship is also a way to keep our ear to the ground when it comes to sustainability.
If you are open to surprising someone and being surprised yourself, then do it.
- Jonas Kreutzer, mentor
Was there anything that surprised you during the mentorship?
J: Other than that, it´s very neat to realise that what you learn is useful, it was very interesting to see how a Swedish institution works from the inside.
M: They had a coaching approach by asking the right questions rather than saying things like “this is how you should do it”, which gave me a lot of ideas. I think it is a good opportunity to have a mentor when you enter a new role, and perhaps especially a leading role. You get to see yourself through the eyes of someone else and that is a luxury.
Would you recommend participation in the reverse mentorship?
A: For sure! It was so cool learning and getting insights and working together as a team.
J: Yeah, of course, I generally recommend that people take the opportunity. I would say though, that to have a successfully reversed mentorship it is good to think about what they want to get out of it, and critically think about if there are alternatives that meet their needs better. Take a few steps back and see if there are other options. Think about what you want to learn and contribute and keep an open mind as you go about it. If you do it for connections or your career, there will be other ways to make it easier to reach that goal.
But if you go into it with an open mindset of your imperfect ideas meeting another person’s imperfect ideas and are open to surprising someone and being surprised yourself, then do it.
M: Yes absolutely. For me it's a little bit about paying it forward, being an alumnus of Lund University myself, but it did also help me in my task.