Think of the last time you were asked to support a friend or relative who was facing a new challenge.
What was your relation to one another? How did it contribute to finding a solution? What did the process teach you about each other? What did you learn about yourself?
This is the kind of thinking that the Mentor Network at KVINFO wants to achieve with the new methods that have been brought into play.
For this reason, the Mentor Network is hosting a number of intro-courses, aiming to teach members how to bring these new methods, based on “Design Thinking”, into reality. The use of this approach for mentoring and integration is a first in Denmark.
But why would a method developed for designers be applicable in a mentor network focused on integration into the Danish culture, and job market? Dig a little deeper, and it proves to make a lot of sense.
Design Thinking is special, because it employs an interpretive and experience-based approach to problem solving and idea development. It’s based on empathy and mutual understanding, positive solution-orientation and creative ideas. The method was developed and put in use for social innovation by the design company, IDEO.
While the ‘design’ aspect of it isn’t necessarily relevant to a mentoring context, the ‘thinking’ part of Design Thinking is crucial in creating the conditions for a successful mentor journey.

”Total equals – different experiences” 

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In a spirit of mutual understanding, the participants in the intro-courses are met with the mantra:
”Equality, positivity, individuality”.
It’s important for both mentor and mentee to understand each other as equals and focus on what their individual experiences can bring to the table. The speaker at the most recent intro-course put it this way:
”Mentors and mentees are equals with a common interest in learning from each other – the only difference is that the mentor has been in Denmark a little bit longer”
This is where Design Thinking comes into the picture. The participants are paired up, and introduced to the methods through exercises.
Design Thinking consists of five steps:
To really absorb the concept of building upon a foundation of empathy, the pairs interview each other for an extended period of time.
They are asked to apply the same thought experiment as in the top of this article, and to share it with one another. The participants practice the method using an example from their own lives – a context in which they applied Design Thinking without necessarily being aware of doing so.
Using a basis of common ground has come into the picture, after the mentor network asked its own mentees what their experience of the process was. The best mentor journeys have been started by building up empathy and a mutual understanding for the other person, before beginning to work on solutions. The goal of introducing Design Thinking to the mentor network is to support this kind of relationship between mentor and mentee, and provide concrete methods for this to take place.
This is both done with thinking, and with practical tools and methods.

Thinking, methods, tools

The interview is the first tool in the mentoring tool box, that the network encourages its mentor pairs to make use of. From here, steps are taken towards defining a common goal.
This is done by asking the question:
“How might we …?”
The mentor and mentee are encouraged to find a focus point that they can work on together, and solve in collaboration. Whether that would be finding a job, practicing a language, or something different. The problem is defined, before the solution is found. The attitude is positive, focusing on what can be done, instead of how many challenges they are facing.
After defining the problem, the ideation phase, and the creative element of collaborating backgrounds, is introduced. With a clear goal in mind, more alternative and unique ideas can be cultivated, and the solution can be angled, to fit the needs of the individual mentee.
The mantra “equality, positivity, individuality” is reflected within these methods, and in this spirit, the mentee is also asked to create a “prototype” of the idea, before testing it in the real world. This is done by making a storyboard that shows the ideal journey and vision from the implementation of the collaborative idea until the end goal is reached.
The basis of empathy and a defined common goal supports the vision of an equal relation between mentor and mentee, and the goal of integration. In Design Thinking, it is not the end of the world if an idea does not  work, the process is simply repeated until the right solution is tested. The common journey and empathic relationship is always a part of the picture. 

KVINFO’s role changes

In addition to the new methods, the mentor network also introduces their new digital platform in the intro-courses. On the website, mentor and mentee find each other based on criteria suited to their own needs – criteria such as age, job, and language skills. In this way, the sense of community between mentor and mentee is strengthened, as they are both involved in the process from the get-go.
KVINFO takes a step back, and becomes a support mechanism, able to act if a mentor pairing isn’t working out, or make inquiry if a pair has stopped meeting. This frees up resources that the Mentornetwork can use to increase the quality of the mentor journey – for example, by arranging social and professional events to support the one-to-one matches.
The network is, with the new methods and digital platform, headed for new times that will hopefully sow the seeds for close friendships, greater integration and broader solidarity.
The next intro-course will be held the 13th of October at the KVINFO library.