Investing in Leadership & Mentorship

Peter Sloane

Chairman and CEO of the Heckscher Foundation for Children


We are asking a lot of questions about leadership and mentorship. Leadership and mentorship are related yet different—so how does this affect our strategies? We define leadership as the capacity to drive an organization forward; and mentorship as that combination of information, support, and inspiration that helps an individual get in touch with their own drive to move forward. While optimism and vision enable an effective leader to inspire others, these are not the key traits of a mentor counseling a kid about financial aid. Conversely, a kid from the neighborhood who made good may have the empathy and experience to become an effective mentor—though not necessarily an effective leader. How can we identify and scale investments in each?

We struggled with this in past years too. We were an early investor in Teach for America. Most recently we supported a new approach to leadership, recruiting veterans to bring their skills to high-need communities as teachers. And we underwrote a new initiative with the Posse Foundation called Posse Consulting, which aims to replicate the successful Posse mentorship model at other CBOs and colleges, promoting diversity in leadership. We have been a major supporter of numerous programs focused on leadership and mentorship in high-achieving, low-income youth (including Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America, TEAK, Prep for Prep, Questbridge, SEO, Legal Outreach, Breakthrough and regional programs like the Los Angeles program, College Match).

Now we’re asking how we can apply what we’ve learned to identify the essential components of programs that develop leadership and mentorship. Some of our current projects are below. We welcome input from those working on related issues.

REACH High School Principal Initiative
One approach to funding leadership was presented to us by a high school principal who we admire for his work with kids in the South Bronx. We asked him to identify a group of principals who might benefit from working with him and two other veteran principals in a structured leadership development program. Each principal will establish goals for his or her school within a framework developed with an organization called REACH Education Solutions, led by former turnaround principal Monica George-Fields. Each of the three veteran principals will mentor three other principals. We will also provide supplemental funds to the nine schools, following a needs assessment, to help them better meet student needs. While the approach isn’t novel, we feel it will yield results for the poorest kids in New York public high schools. If so, the model is scalable and replicable.

Harlem Pride School Collaboration
A similar approach is a school collaboration model involving three schools in East Harlem that have pooled athletic resources in the past to have one common sports team, which competes against other schools under the name “Harlem Pride.” The schools, Park East, Central Park East, and Heritage, are close to each other and serve predominantly poor kids, but have very different characteristics. Park East has a successful math program while Heritage has an arts focus and Central Park East has an outstanding college guidance program. We are providing funds to each school to meet its own identified needs and also investing in shared professional development and teaching techniques. Each school will support the other two in its areas of strength. If the model succeeds it will provide a model for meaningful collaboration between schools.

Re-examining Mentor Training and Methods
We are also rethinking mentorship models. If a strong personal connection is important to a successful mentor relationship, can “remote mentoring” by email, Skype, or text work as effectively as in-person models? There are plenty of remote mentoring models out there, and we are a substantial investor in many of them (for example, we invested in the CollegePoint initiative started by Bloomberg Philanthropies, which has many remote mentoring models). We have found a wide divergence of practice in how mentorship programs select, train, and monitor mentors. While measuring impact in straight numbers and mentee achievements has value, we are taking a harder look to try to identify qualities of successful mentorship and how these are taught and monitored.

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Chairman and CEO
Heckscher Foundation for Children