mentoring

supporting community action through reflective practice

Learning to bring about change doesn’t need to be lonely or tough. Sometimes it helps to have a fellow traveler to debrief with, to share stories and insights, and to talk through challenges and opportunities. Mentoring is one way this can happen.

Since 1995, the Change Agency team has supported social movements through education and training, facilitation, action research and mentoring. We are committed to creating opportunities for people engaged in social change work to undertake deep reflection about their work. Mentoring can be a powerful aid to learning and development.

Members of our collective are experienced strategists and adult educators with a deep commitment to skill sharing and empowerment. We each bring different strengths and insights to our work as mentors. We’ve each learnt about bringing about social and environmental change the hard way – through ‘having a go’, teaming up with others to attempting the impossible, trying, failing and sometimes succeeding!

“Mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protégé).”
(Bozeman & Feeney, 2007).

Mentoring provides an opportunity to think and reflect in a confidential and supportive environment. It may make sense to review the preceding period, identify challenges, and workshop ways to respond to challenges in the future. If needed, sessions can include skills practice, campaign analysis, interpersonal skills development, role-plays and other activities.

We believe less is more. The most powerful social movement learning tends to be ‘slow’ rather than ‘fast’ and involves reflection, patience, probing and action learning (trial and error). Rather than discussing many topics during a mentoring session, we encourage people to identify just one or two key challenges or opportunities they’re facing.

The mentoring relationship can take many forms. Generally, we negotiate what people would like to discuss, for how long and in what way. Some people prefer a structured and quite formal approach whereas others opt for a casual and free-flowing discussion. Our approach is guided by people’s preferences and instinct.

Mentors can also play the role of a critical friend.

“A critical friend can be defined as a trusted person who asks provocative questions, provides data to be examined through another lens, and offers critiques of a person’s work as a friend. A critical friend takes the time to fully understand the context of the work presented and the outcomes that the person or group is working toward. The friend is an advocate for the success of that work.”
(Costa & Kallick, 1993)

How does it work?

Mentoring involves an initial session to clarify expectations and how the mentoring relationship will proceed. It works best if a regular time can be established, or dates set in advance so both people can ensure they’re available and focused. Mentoring sessions are for one hour and often occur via Skype, although face-to-face sessions will be scheduled where possible.

The structure of a mentoring session varies, but to give you an idea here is an outline of a session:

  • Initial check-in. How are you going?
  • What’s been happening? A review of activities and developments since the last session.
  • Focus on a current or past difficulty, or upcoming challenge. Talk through the issue. Explore options for how to approach it. Share ideas and resources.
  • What else is of concern or interest? What’s coming up?
  • Summarise key points from the discussion. Check time and date for next session. Check-out and next steps

The mentor may follow up the session by emailing relevant resources,ideas or feedback.

Preparation can make a difference to the effectiveness of mentoring sessions. If both the mentor and the person receiving mentoring are clear about issues that upcoming discussions will focus on, we can reflect deeply, prepare ideas, share useful resources and so on.

To read more about mentoring…

Bozeman, B. & Feeney, M. K. (2007). Toward a useful theory of mentoring: A conceptual analysis and critique. Administrative and Society, 39 (6), pp. 719-739.
Aubrey, B. & Cohen, P. (1995) Working Wisdom: Timeless Skills and Vanguard Strategies for Learning Organizations, Jossey Bass.
Costa, A & Kallick, B 1993, Through the Lens of a Critical Friend, Educational Leadership vol. 51 no. 2, pp. 49-51.

What are people saying about us?

Alana West, Quit Coal organiser

The fellowship has equipped me with a deeper understanding of what community organising is, and how it can best be applied. Through my learnings I have been challenged to move from tactics-based campaigning to more strategic, long-term campaigning. I understand better where my campaign and my community fit into the incredible tapestry that is the environment and climate movement in Australia.
The Change Agency
2015-03-17T21:00:54+11:00
The fellowship has equipped me with a deeper understanding of what community organising is, and how it can best be applied. Through my learnings I have been challenged to move from tactics-based campaigning to more strategic, long-term campaigning. I understand better where my campaign and my community fit into the incredible tapestry that is the environment and climate movement in Australia.
Shani Tager

Shani Tager, Friends of the Earth

The fellowship has been really useful in helping me become more disciplined in the strategic planning process and able to clearly communicate why we’re doing what we’re doing. The facilitation team have been fantastic and having theory drawn out from our own experiences and then immediately applied to our campaigns means I’ll be returning to my team with a solid analysis of how we can be more effective.
The Change Agency
2014-05-10T21:52:42+10:00
Shani Tager
The fellowship has been really useful in helping me become more disciplined in the strategic planning process and able to clearly communicate why we’re doing what we’re doing. The facilitation team have been fantastic and having theory drawn out from our own experiences and then immediately applied to our campaigns means I’ll be returning to my team with a solid analysis of how we can be more effective.

Peter Callender, Quit Coal



Like many campaigning groups, we are constantly grappling with capacity issues, a lack of funding/resources, burnout and how to best manage volunteers. While it's early days, the fellowship is already having significant flow on effects to the rest of the Quit Coal collective and the lessons we are learning are both effective and reinvigorating!


The Change Agency
2014-04-16T22:34:36+10:00
Like many campaigning groups, we are constantly grappling with capacity issues, a lack of funding/resources, burnout and how to best manage volunteers. While it's early days, the fellowship is already having significant flow on effects to the rest of the Quit Coal collective and the lessons we are learning are both effective and reinvigorating!

Alycia Gawthorne, GetUp! organiser

The Fellowship has challenged the way I previously thought about campaigning and community organising, and made me rethink how I approach my work. It’s afforded me the space to take a step back and look at the entire movement. I feel like the skills I take away from the Fellowship will be invaluable, but far more important will be the deeper understanding I have about my role and how it fits within a larger movement.
The Change Agency
2015-03-17T19:33:28+11:00
The Fellowship has challenged the way I previously thought about campaigning and community organising, and made me rethink how I approach my work. It’s afforded me the space to take a step back and look at the entire movement. I feel like the skills I take away from the Fellowship will be invaluable, but far more important will be the deeper understanding I have about my role and how it fits within a larger movement.

Leigh Ewbank, Yes2Renewables coordinator

Usually, organisers learn in the heat of battle – through trial and error, stress, and necessity. The Community Organising Fellowship has provided a rare opportunity to step off the campaign trail, slow down, and do some deep learning. The suite of tools explored in the program will influence my practice for years to come.

 By creating a ‘community of practice’ of organisers, those behind the fellowship have shown strategic leadership. The relationships the program has cultivated (within the cohort and between alumni) will pay dividends. 
The Change Agency
2015-03-17T20:58:10+11:00
Usually, organisers learn in the heat of battle – through trial and error, stress, and necessity. The Community Organising Fellowship has provided a rare opportunity to step off the campaign trail, slow down, and do some deep learning. The suite of tools explored in the program will influence my practice for years to come.  By creating a ‘community of practice’ of organisers, those behind the fellowship have shown strategic leadership. The relationships the program has cultivated (within the cohort and between alumni) will pay dividends. 
Bob Bingaman

Bob Bingaman, Sierra Club National Organizing Director

The fight to protect the environment is a fight of organized people against organized money.  For those in Australia who want to take on and be successful in this fight, the Community Organizing Fellowship provides the opportunity to learn, practice and implement strong grassroots organizing skills.

There is no better place to learn the craft of organizing, then immediately apply those learning to today’s most relevant climate and environmental campaigns, than the Community Organizing Fellowship.  The program is an in-depth immersion into the craft of grassroots organizing.  Going through this program will transform campaigners and how they think about and implement campaigns which build grassroots power to achieve significant environmental victories.
The Change Agency
2014-05-29T13:00:49+10:00
Bob Bingaman
The fight to protect the environment is a fight of organized people against organized money.  For those in Australia who want to take on and be successful in this fight, the Community Organizing Fellowship provides the opportunity to learn, practice and implement strong grassroots organizing skills. There is no better place to learn the craft of organizing, then immediately apply those learning to today’s most relevant climate and environmental campaigns, than the Community Organizing Fellowship.  The program is an in-depth immersion into the craft of grassroots organizing.  Going through this program will transform campaigners and how they think about and implement campaigns which build grassroots power to achieve significant environmental victories.
Richard Yin

Dr Richard Yin, Doctors for the Environment Australia 2020

We had the privilege of working with James Whelan and The Change Agency over two days to clarify our understanding of campaigning and advocacy. With over 20 doctors and medical students from varied experiences in advocacy work present and a very complex and full agenda, the workshop was a huge success made possible through a very thoughtful and professional facilitation process from James. I can only commend the quality of his work and thank him once again for the weekend.
The Change Agency
2020-02-25T11:16:05+11:00
Richard Yin
We had the privilege of working with James Whelan and The Change Agency over two days to clarify our understanding of campaigning and advocacy. With over 20 doctors and medical students from varied experiences in advocacy work present and a very complex and full agenda, the workshop was a huge success made possible through a very thoughtful and professional facilitation process from James. I can only commend the quality of his work and thank him once again for the weekend.

Jono La Nauze, FoE Melbourne

Totally awesome working with you guys. Thanks for your patience, commitment, considered and constructive guidance and generously giving so much time and effort. Thank you also for having faith in the process. Working with tCA was easy and a pleasure.
The Change Agency
2014-03-30T08:23:37+11:00
Totally awesome working with you guys. Thanks for your patience, commitment, considered and constructive guidance and generously giving so much time and effort. Thank you also for having faith in the process. Working with tCA was easy and a pleasure.
dave & gemma

Dave Muhly, Sierra Club

What began at Pittwater as a collection of skilled campaigners became a cadre of skilled organizers by the final day at Baden Powell. On Sunday evening as we gathered, I overheard one participant chatting with another at a picnic table and heard, "challenge, choice, outcome" as part of her conversation. Another commented at the final circle at how what had seemed like such a large group at Pittwater now seemed like a much smaller group, reflective of how closely this group had bonded as a team despite their vast differences in geography or organizational size or style, but based on a common goal and identity. Concepts like "building teams" and "building relationships" were part of the normal parlance and just a cursory review of the evaluations to date show an increased appreciation for and attention to leadership development and strategic planning. A number of participants reminded me of my off-the-cuff set of definitions about the differences between mobilizing, campaigning and community organising (focusing on local power), and one told me she has it on the wall of her office to inspire her every day. This has been the successful launch of an ambitious and visionary program. Many thanks to James and Kate for their vision, wisdom, and care in developing and nurturing the curriculum and the cohort. Kudos!

The Change Agency
2014-09-15T10:27:41+10:00
dave & gemma
What began at Pittwater as a collection of skilled campaigners became a cadre of skilled organizers by the final day at Baden Powell. On Sunday evening as we gathered, I overheard one participant chatting with another at a picnic table and heard, "challenge, choice, outcome" as part of her conversation. Another commented at the final circle at how what had seemed like such a large group at Pittwater now seemed like a much smaller group, reflective of how closely this group had bonded as a team despite their vast differences in geography or organizational size or style, but based on a common goal and identity. Concepts like "building teams" and "building relationships" were part of the normal parlance and just a cursory review of the evaluations to date show an increased appreciation for and attention to leadership development and strategic planning. A number of participants reminded me of my off-the-cuff set of definitions about the differences between mobilizing, campaigning and community organising (focusing on local power), and one told me she has it on the wall of her office to inspire her every day. This has been the successful launch of an ambitious and visionary program. Many thanks to James and Kate for their vision, wisdom, and care in developing and nurturing the curriculum and the cohort. Kudos!

Peter Archer, World Vision

I have shared with my friends and family that this workshop was the most valuable training I have done. It came at a time when I had become aware of my passion for grassroots activism. The follow-up support equipped me quickly and powerfully to put my learning into practice and age my confidence a huge boost.
The Change Agency
2014-03-30T08:11:05+11:00
I have shared with my friends and family that this workshop was the most valuable training I have done. It came at a time when I had become aware of my passion for grassroots activism. The follow-up support equipped me quickly and powerfully to put my learning into practice and age my confidence a huge boost.
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