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?

Cherry Muddle, Australian Marine Conservation Society

The Community Organising Fellowship has rooted in me a deeper sense of belonging to an intentional, international movement to create the positive changes we wish to see in society, environment, culture and climate. The program delivery is varied, fluid and always interesting. The strengths and highlights for me include learning through shared experience and critical analysis. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed forging strong connections and bonds between fellow organisers, facilitators and guest speakers.
The Change Agency
2015-03-17T21:02:16+11:00
The Community Organising Fellowship has rooted in me a deeper sense of belonging to an intentional, international movement to create the positive changes we wish to see in society, environment, culture and climate. The program delivery is varied, fluid and always interesting. The strengths and highlights for me include learning through shared experience and critical analysis. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed forging strong connections and bonds between fellow organisers, facilitators and guest speakers.

Ben Margetts, Australian Youth Climate Coalition 2007

I wanted to express how grateful I was for the experience to work with Sam and James. It was very special for me to interact with a part of social movements that I feel a lot of affinity with. I also think tCA shows a great example of 'best practice' in regard to organisational interactions. We at the AYCC have benefited immensely from working with you not just in your capacity as trainers, and the learning that was facilitated, but also with tCA as an organisation.
The Change Agency
2014-03-30T07:33:22+11:00
I wanted to express how grateful I was for the experience to work with Sam and James. It was very special for me to interact with a part of social movements that I feel a lot of affinity with. I also think tCA shows a great example of 'best practice' in regard to organisational interactions. We at the AYCC have benefited immensely from working with you not just in your capacity as trainers, and the learning that was facilitated, but also with tCA as an organisation.

Isaac Astill, Divestment Campaigner, 350.org Australia

It would take years of fumbling along for me to learn what the Fellowship has taught me in a few short months. I feel more powerful for it, and I’ve walked away with the ongoing skills and relationships I need to build a more powerful movement.
The Change Agency
2015-03-17T19:37:41+11:00
It would take years of fumbling along for me to learn what the Fellowship has taught me in a few short months. I feel more powerful for it, and I’ve walked away with the ongoing skills and relationships I need to build a more powerful 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. 
Nick Aberle

Nick Aberle, Environment Victoria

Learning the theory and engaging with such practical implementation in such depth will definitely make me a more effective and successful campaigner and organiser. I’m looking forward to practicing my new skills in being more rigorous, thinking more strategically, and communicating more effectively. The strength of the bonds formed within the group has already strengthened the climate movement in Australia.
The Change Agency
2014-05-10T21:42:00+10:00
Nick Aberle
Learning the theory and engaging with such practical implementation in such depth will definitely make me a more effective and successful campaigner and organiser. I’m looking forward to practicing my new skills in being more rigorous, thinking more strategically, and communicating more effectively. The strength of the bonds formed within the group has already strengthened the climate movement in Australia.
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.
Sophie Peer

Sophie Peer, ChilOut campaign director

The Change Agency is like a best friend in the drawer. As the only paid employee in a very small not for profit, it is fabulous to know there are trusted, well tested resources a click away. Whether it's workshop planning, strategic re-think, tactics - tCA is the chamomile tea to my campaigner-stress.
The Change Agency
2014-05-16T14:31:59+10:00
Sophie Peer
The Change Agency is like a best friend in the drawer. As the only paid employee in a very small not for profit, it is fabulous to know there are trusted, well tested resources a click away. Whether it's workshop planning, strategic re-think, tactics - tCA is the chamomile tea to my campaigner-stress.
Chris Rose

Chris Rose, Author of ‘How to Win Campaigns’

They (tCA) really are movement makers... the Aussie inheritors of Alinsky.
The Change Agency
2014-03-30T08:05:33+11:00
Chris Rose
They (tCA) really are movement makers... the Aussie inheritors of Alinsky.
Stu Bowen

Stu Bowen, Environmental Manager (Australia & New Zealand) Patagonia International Inc.

James has helped me better appreciate my unique set of values and understand what inspires me to action, which is a great tool to recognise other stakeholder’s values and what motivates them to action. This growth allows me to communicate far more effectively with all my stakeholders, so we can all achieve greater positive environmental and social change.

 
The Change Agency
2015-04-29T18:23:01+10:00
Stu Bowen
James has helped me better appreciate my unique set of values and understand what inspires me to action, which is a great tool to recognise other stakeholder’s values and what motivates them to action. This growth allows me to communicate far more effectively with all my stakeholders, so we can all achieve greater positive environmental and social change.  

Anna Rose, ASEN Convenor and NUS National Environment Officer 2005

As a direct result of the training you ran at Melbourne Uni, they will be running a real campaign on public transport concessions next year and are even investing in properly researching so they can have a strategic, directed campaign.
The Change Agency
2014-03-30T07:48:37+11:00
As a direct result of the training you ran at Melbourne Uni, they will be running a real campaign on public transport concessions next year and are even investing in properly researching so they can have a strategic, directed campaign.
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The Change Agency