In 2011, Michelle Obama called on private-sector businesses to support mentoring programs as a way to help curb the nation’s dropout rate through the launch of the Corporate Mentoring Challenge. Bank of America (BofA) answered the first lady’s call, and three years later in January, the National Mentoring Conference recognized the company for having the highest volume of employees participating in some form of mentoring.
In one year, BofA had more than 25,000 volunteers with 210,000 hours of service. To date, it has given more than $22 million in grants to mentoring and education programs and matched 100,000 young people with mentors.
Partnering with other companies and foundations
“[BofA’s] mentoring efforts are part of our broader work to connect young people to the skills needed for long-term success,” says Kerry Sullivan, president of the Bank of America Charitable Foundation. “We're preparing youth for 21st-century jobs, and sometimes these might be at our company, but not necessarily—it's about the bigger picture of investing in their employability.”
Through partnerships with organizations like the YMCA; the Bridging the Gap program, which helps Hispanic part-time employees transition to full-time employment; and the Cherie Blair Foundation’s Mentoring Women in Business Programme, matching women in developing countries with mentors, the company has made it clear that it believes mentoring is important for business, as well as the communities it serves.
The benefits run both ways
Mentoring is a mutually beneficial relationship for both the mentor and mentee, offering mentees access to a trusted adviser and mentors experiences that can help them in their own careers. Businesses likes BofA see a return on their mentoring investment in the form of increased morale, productivity and employee retention.
“When people commit to taking time to help pull someone else up the ladder, or reach their goals, or overcome an obstacle, they are developing their leadership, communication, teamwork and management skills,” Kerry says. “These skills can translate into enhanced skill sets in the workplace, and increasingly, we're seeing volunteer opportunities as important ways to build the skills of current and future employees.”
Investing in the future
The sense of accomplishment, the good feelings we receive from giving and developing meaningful relationships all contribute to our overall wellbeing. The promise of a great future is not always guaranteed, especially for young people who don’t have access to positive role models. But when we get to know each other, when we understand each other, when we are empathic and more willing to help people help themselves, we can create a ripple effect, helping make the world a happier place.
“Mentoring is more than an investment in someone else's success—it's an opportunity to create connections, expand perspectives and find common ground, no matter how different the mentee and mentor are,” Kerry says. “It also strengthens relationships by breaking down barriers, encouraging mutually beneficial and productive conversations—sometimes tough conversations—and allows people to participate in their community, be it a workplace or the community at large.”