Business community focuses on mentorship

January 28, 2013

Corporate leaders gathered at the Mayflower Renaissance Hotel in Northwest Washington last week for an annual conference on mentoring.

Businesses that attended the recent session included big names such as Bank of America, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, State Street, AT&T, Viacom and Altria.

Kelly Waldron, who organizes community initiatives in Deloitte’s Washington region, said the conversation generated new ideas for her company’s mentoring programs. She was interested, for instance, in hearing how some groups have worked with New York City school officials to gather data on students who receive mentoring.

“That’s something so important that I don’t think any of our programs are doing,” Waldron said. The company, with a local workforce of 7,000, organizes a national day of service where employees do service projects including helping local high school students prepare for college. The company also provides résuméworkshops and career training.

“It’s helpful to have this conversation to help guide and base our local conversation,” Waldron said.

Bank of America officials organized a panel discussion to rally business leaders around the idea of incorporating mentoring programs into philanthropy programs.

Like other major corporations involved in philanthropy, Bank of America has assumed the role of collaborator, convening organizations across sectors to address social problems. It also runs its own efforts, such as a $1 million student leadership program that awards local students with internships.

“Every business needs some type of mentoring initiative,” said Kristy Teskey, senior vice president at Bank of America Charitable Foundation. “The costs of not doing it are too great.”

One report presented at the conference showed that the number of young people out of work and school offered the greatest indication of a state’s ability to provide economic opportunity.

“Employers in all sectors are a critical part of the solution,” said Elizabeth Clay Roy, deputy director of Opportunity Nation, a national coalition that aims to reduce economic disparities. She highlighted the importance of a business’ ability to provide jobs, internships, training and mentoring.

While inspired to expand youth outreach programs, some businesses find it difficult to make more time.

“I’m energized by the challenge but it’s a balancing act,” said Fukiko Ogisu, an executive at Viacom. “We still have to get our work done at the end of the day.”

Viacom organized a Get Connected youth campaign three years ago that has been adopted by its subsidiaries including BET, which is headquartered in the District. BET shuttles employees to local middle schools to read to students during lunch hours. It also hosts high school students at its offices each week providing public speaking and career training, and takes students to its award shows. Its 250 local employees volunteer to mentor for 2,000 hours each year.

Bank of America plans to organize another panel discussion at the Points of Light volunteering conference in June.

Vanessa Small covers philanthropy and nonprofits for Capital Business. She also spotlights newly appointed executives in the New at the Top column, which chronicles their journeys to the top. Small was raised in Orange County, Ca. and graduated from Howard University.
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