The MentorNet program provides an intimate business social network that supports entrepreneurial women to grow their businesses through education, networking, and mentoring over a period of six months.
MentorNet was the first national mentoring program for women in business to be launched in Australia and the first to use Web2.0 technologies (blogs, wikis, social networks, webinars, photo-sharing and social bookmarking) to provide education and mentoring in an enriched technology enabled experience.
In June 2006, the Australian Businesswomen’s Network (ABN) won a government grant to develop a national mentoring program for businesswomen as part of the Australian Government’s Building Entrepreneurship in Small Business program. Since January 2007, 6 programs have been successfully completed by 127 Mentorees, together with 29 Mentors.
Suzi Dafnis, National General Manager of the ABN says:
“There has never been a better time to create a program like MentorNet. Today’s technologies allow us to tap into the richness of this country’s business thinking and education and deliver that direct to aspiring businesswomen in all parts of the country to help them grow their businesses. A successful businesswoman in Melbourne can mentor a woman in Taree. Today’s technologies mean that time and distance are no longer barriers.
Mentoring is the key to business success; it is a short cut for those new in business as well as a way for more experienced business owners to share advice and business wisdom. The MentorNet program offers something totally new in mentoring, using the latest online community and learning methodologies.”
Learning wherever you are based
The main benefit of MentorNet has been to overcome the geographical dispersion of its members, and to create a vibrant online community that is able to support and help Australian businesswomen wherever they are.
NB: Due to the confidential nature of information being exchanged between the MentorNet participants about their business development, we are unable to provide public access to the program – this would breach the privacy agreements signed by all participants.
About the program design:
From Anne Bartlett-Bragg, the program designer, educational adviser to the ABN and Managing Director, Headshift Australia.
An essential consideration in the design of MentorNet was to gain clarity on our (the ABN’s) underpinning assumptions about the nature of mentoring and learning, while understanding the parameters or constraints that would need to be addressed before we were able to design the software platforms.
The ABN’s Mentoring philosophy:
The role of the Mentor was considered key to the success of the program – outlined here are the core attributes of mentoring we wanted to enable:
• Role model – wise counsel or advice based on their experiences in similar situations
• Guiding – persuading and coaching to apply suggestions
• Collaborating – brainstorming
• Empathetic listening and clarification
• Sounding board
• Networking with mentorees/mentors
The Mentors are men or women with over five years business experience, who provide mentoring to small groups or Pods (four mentorees) following a structured and planned approach to business building.
The ABN’s educational philosophy:
To structure the business skills education component, it was agreed that the content must be:
The ABN’s Mentoree philosophy:
To achieve the program outcomes, it was considered essential that participants would be actively involved by:
• Publishing, and
• Distributing their work for feedback
• NOT just passively consuming information
Some design parameters:
• Not tied to specific locations
Negative feedback from previous locally conducted mentoring sessions frequently related to the need to attend physical locations
• Geographically dispersed participants
How do we bring them to us?
• Connectivity & access
In Australia, particularly rural and regional areas there remains issues with access to high-speed internet connections
• Ease of use
Must be seamless where technology is the enabler – not the focus!!
• Levels of digital literacy
The design would need to cater for all levels of digital and computer literacy.
Social software can generate powerful learning networks – from simple individual actions that help create an architecture of participation, to links that connect people for a common purpose.
Weblogs, wikis, social bookmarking and tagging have all emerged as powerful collaborative tools, but their greatest transformational potential exists within organisations that embed them into their learning strategies.
While social learning theories recognise that learning occurs in a social context through interactions with others and subsequent learning is influenced by observing and modelling patterns of behaviour.
Publishing and participating online with social software creates a complex sphere of communication. The social structure of the environment comprising of a variety of people, both readers and writers, supporting the structure of network evolution that develops an ecology of connections.
Social software in this learning context was informed by the following assumptions:
• Learners want to communicate and collaborate with others
• Learners enjoy networking with like-minded people
• Learners will openly share their experiences
• Learners look for recommendations and feedback from trusted resources
• Learners will create their own knowledge by self-publishing
• Learners will manage their own learning by subscribing to information
MentorNet incorporated a blended selection of the most powerful social software options to create a rich learning environment for all participants.
Live meetings are conducted through synchronous webinar technology provided by Webex. This enables the participants to collaborate and share their experiences in real time through the internet and a telephone.
Structured business sessions occur fortnightly, and informal mentoring meetings in a small group, or Pod, are scheduled in alternate weeks.
The core web-based learning context is shaped through a variety of large group, peer group and individual spaces based on a wiki and weblog environment, a mash-up platform, heavily customised, using Atlassian’s enterprise wiki, Confluence.
Mentorees build their business plans in a dynamic, personal wiki spaces, while collaborating with the larger group on case studies and focus activities on the group weblog.
Templates and examples provide a framework for the mentorees to apply the knowledge acquired directly into their own contexts and receive feedback from their peers and mentors.
Mentors are also provided with personal wiki and weblog spaces, where they can comment and provide their own experiences and knowledge for the benefit of other
s to learn from.
Additional functions, like event calendars, resources, social bookmarking, photo sharing, and other subscription services are displayed through RSS feeds in the central wiki as the main portal for the group.
All individuals develop profiles based on digital storytelling principles that will incorporate photos shared through Flickr and other rich media. These profiles will allow participants to connect with each other in a more personalised way and create stronger network connections.
With MentorNet, Headshift Australia was up against the task of creating a vibrant online community for a group of people with very specific needs, but also with potentially very different backgrounds.
Some amazing outcomes are being achieved:
MentorNet is designed to put theory into action over a 6 month period. The participants are expected to set outcomes, attend the webinars facilitated by subject-matter experts in business skills, work with a mentor and small peer group to develop a business plan that they can action during and after the program. Sustainability of these businesses is a high priority and focus.
The stated program outcomes are:
• Create a detailed business plan incorporating financial, operations and marketing plans
• Consolidate upon the business skills training, identify deficiencies in skills, and take action to address these areas.
• Expand their national networks and make contacts that can provide ongoing support beyond the completion of the program.
“The results are amazing, we are seeing demonstrated evidence of the mentorees applying the business principles they’re learning into their wikis, and openly providing feedback to their Pod members”, says Anne Bartlett-Bragg. “Not only is the technology providing an enriched experience, but our design is enabling application and improvement into their businesses! “
These results have been collected from 4 programs by participant surveys:
- 100% reported an increase their business skills
- 95% report having more direction in their business
- 100% have expanded their networks
- 50% report an increase in turnover (during the 6 months program)
- 65% report business growth (during the 6 months program)
- 35% have employed more staff (during the 6 months program)
- 90% have developed their business plans
- 100% report increased confidence about their business
- 100% are more enthusiastic about their business
- 100% have expanded their networks
- 100% are more enthusiastic about their business
- 100% reported an increase their business skills
And some comments from the mentorees:
“…MentorNet is giving me some clarity to my business goals and planning and my Mentor is giving me confidence to follow through some business ideas and the support of the mentorees is helpful in developing my confidence as I have been working in isolation for the past year and lost some of my confidence.“
I just wanted to thank everyone who has made MentorNet possible. I have already gotten so much out of this course and we aren’t even halfway through yet.
Everyone has made it clear that their objective is to support us through the course to getthe most out of it, as well as the most out of our business. I was very nervous initially, and almost didn’t apply, because I thought I didn’t have enough knowledge to be apart of it. But each step is broken down and we are guided through it bit by bit, and it is manageable (even when you run your own business and have for a little ones at home!).
My advice to all women is to go for it and take this course. You won’t regret it!
Jessie Broome – j [studios]
I always read comments from courses like these and sub-consciously think “yeah you’re inspired for the first 5 minutes and then it’s back to square one”. OMG, how wrong could I have been!!! The focus, inspiration and direction I have gained from being a part of the MentorNet program are impossible for me to grasp at this point – but it’s BIG 🙂
Louise Jordan – Little Devils Recreation Pty Ltd
Before MentorNet my business had been plodding along for 4 years. Now, coming towards the end of the journey I have a structure for my business plan that I understand and use. I have learnt concepts and techniques I had never considered, such as blogging to keep in touch with current and past clients. And strategies and systems I knew about but didn’t fully understand such as financial forecasts. By having the support of other business women and my fabulous mentor I have taken steps I was previously too scared to do to enable the growth of my business, such as employment and setting financial goals.
Every step of this journey has been an educational one and I look forward to keeping in contact with the other participants. Thank-you!
Stephanie Lee – Alive Personal Training
I really enjoyed our pod session yesterday and I felt re-energised
for the work I do in mybusiness and on my business and I feel like
a weight has lifted.
“I like the support from the other participants and mentors. I have been able to develop new business ideas and make changes to grow my business. It is great to see everyone else share their experiences grow their own business each week.”
“The feeling of being able to talk to other business women in such a wonderful environment that encourages, supports and provides positive feedback that allows you to grow your business and yourself.”
“I really feel the experience has been so beneficial to my business and I am starting to see some changes over the past few months. I feel more focused and confident with my business.”
“Thank-you – I think the mode of delivery for flexibility of learning is fantastic!”
“What I’m most grateful for right now is, well, the networking, I think. I’ve got a lot of out of that and even though I’ve been in the UK for the last month, I’ve still managed to keep up to date with what’s been going on.”
“…I guess what I’m most grateful for is the sort of moral support and encouragement from people who, you know, you’ve never met until the beginning of this year and suddenly they become your biggest sort of fan in terms of wanting to see you succeed. So that’s been really good.”
“The MentorNet program is absolutely fantastic. It’s provided us with so much opportunity to learn, to expand our knowledge, the support and the network that we’ve gained. I think one of the biggest things that I’ve actually learnt, it’s given me a new set of eyes where I can actually step out of my business and look at it and dissect it, which I wasn’t able to do objectively previously. So I thought that was a fairly big achievement.”
“I just have so thoroughly enjoyed the way each module has been presented. It was just in such a user-friendly form and it built on…you know, each month was another piece to the puzzle, and there were pieces of the puzzle that
I hadn’t even considered yet. So I’m really, really grateful for that, you know, the way that it was put together. I learnt and now I am learning. I didn’t know I didn’t know, and now I know (37:31). And there’s just so much more out there and it’s really inspired me to keep looking for new ideas and new things to learn. I really enjoy that process. And I’m truly grateful for the support.”
And few comments from mentors:
“I offered my services for this program because of its use of technology and innovative processes for delivering the content. I believe this technology is the way of the future and will provide many more women (and men for that matter) the opportunity to participate in this valuable learning experience.”
“…it’s been really a great privilege for me to be part of this program. It’s been a great learning experience. I’ve enjoyed the unity of it. I’ve really gotten to enjoy the inspiration and enthusiasm and the energy of my Pod, and I’ve learnt from them and I hope I’ve contributed in a small way to them. So it’s really made a difference in so many ways. And I’ve loved being connected with Australia in a whole new way that’s really made a gigantic difference. So it’s made me closer to home in my heart.”
Australian (male) mentor currently living in the USA.
“Very inspiring to see their [mentorees] passion for growth and learning and the support given, you know, always around in the group, I think that’s what’s been particularly enriching, has been the mentoring by mentorees, if you like, between folks on the calls. And really see visible impact. It’s not just a feel-good thing. I mean, ideas have been put out and then acted on and progress has been, you know, has resulted”
Another mentor based in the US.“
Another (male) mentor based in the USA.
And a final word from Suzi Dafnis:
“MentorNet has allowed the Australian Businesswomen’s Network to play a key role in the development of women business-owners from across our vast country. The technology and use of media has allowed women to participate (from opposite ends of Australia) to collaborate, support each other and further their business education while managing busy schedules, families, fledgling businesses. They’ve connected with a community of like-minded women and found support and guidance that they need to grow successful businesses. We are very proud of the program and the difference it is making to these women.”
And a final Thanks to the program partners and sponsors:
The development of the MentorNet program was the result of collaboration between the following companies – click on their links below for more information.
If you are interested in joining the MentorNet program, either as Mentoree (Australian women only), or Mentor, please visit the HerMentor site for more information.