*Please note that this feature has been brought to you in paid partnership with Capital One Canada, all thoughts and opinions are our own*
Like everything else in 2020, the Capital One Digital for Good™ Tech Jam looked a little different this year. Unlike the bustling in-person event that took place last year in Toronto, this year’s edition — like so many other events — was reimagined as a virtual experience. Thankfully, the 80 participating tech team members didn’t have any trouble adapting to connecting with the 12 participating Canadian charities virtually instead of in-person.
This year, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rochelle de Goias-Jackman (virtually, of course!) who is the founder of the Girls E-Mentorship Program about their experience receiving support from Canada’s top tech talent through Digital for Good for the first time.
Keep reading to learn more about Girls E-Mentorship Program (AKA: GEM) and the tech solution they built to support their charitable programming with help from Digital for Good 2020:
Edit Seven: Why did you start the Girls E-Mentorship Program?
Rochelle de Goias-Jackman: When I was in grad school, I was living abroad, and I didn’t have a mentor. I was in a male-dominated field and a lot of them had mentors, and these mentors were opening doors for them, getting them internships—which were snowballing into different opportunities and connections. However, none of the few girls in the program had mentors and I knew it had to change. We needed to make it more mainstream for women to have mentors.
E7: When did your idea for the Girls E-Mentorship Program become a reality?
RDGJ: Fast forward years later. I had the opportunity to start something when I was working at the government. I had a lot of connections at that point, and I had evaluated a ton of programs.
The majority of the girls in our program are very vulnerable. They’re high risk, BIPOC majority. It started as a small group in the Flemingdon Park neighbourhood, and now we accept over a hundred mentees. This year, it’s 120 mentees and 150 mentors!
E7: Tell us a little bit more about the mentorship program…
RDGJ: We decided to develop with young women in high priority neighbourhoods. Rather than us just saying, “Hey, we have this great program. This is what the research says. We’re going to design a program. This is what you need,” we flipped it and reversed it.
What do you need from a mentor? What are you looking for? What are you lacking? How can we get you to success? Those are the types of questions we ask. We [also] have a full curriculum for mentors. We train them and, in addition to that, we provide programming.
We also have lots of partnerships with different corporations, and we would go to their offices and host [what we], essentially, call a Geminar—a cross between a seminar and a business school class—and we provide information. Each session is different and tailored based on the needs of the mentees and [on the] current research. On top of that, we have 15 scholarships that we’re going to be able to offer our girls.
In addition to scholarships, what we wanted to do with our partner organizations was offer [our girls] job-shadowing opportunities, to talk to some female senior leaders in the industry and ask questions in a really private, sort of relaxed environment where they don’t feel like they’re being judged. So then, that kind of started to grow into not only job-shadowing, but internship opportunities, then initial job opportunities, and resume-building type of opportunities [as well].
E7: What’s your goal for the Girls E-Mentorship Program?
RDGJ: I would say there are a lot of goals. It’s academic improvement and opportunities for these young women, and that’s where the scholarship piece comes in. But in addition to that, we’re looking at career guidance. [We give] career guidance and career information to them and their families. And, of course, improve self-esteem and social capital—we all know that a lot of your success in life has to do with who you know and who’s supporting you behind the scenes.
We’re trying to be a mentorship culture in Toronto. It should be normal that women help each other. Like, there’s this old boy-based network, and everybody just goes golfing and helps each other. We need that. We have a lot of senior women from all over the GTA [who ask], “How can we help these young women? And how can we open a door and give them an opportunity?”
E7: Are there common industries that GEM or the girls you’re supporting tend to focus on or get into?
RDGJ: Well, STEM is a huge one, and it’s really all coming from the girls. A lot of times, refugee families or newcomers to Canada have young women who tend to gravitate towards medicine and traditional professions. My parents are both immigrants, and they’re both from that professional sort of background, so it’s just something people did.
Part of the reason is that there’s a comfort level in those industries, but they’re [also] unaware of all of the other opportunities within these fields. So, we’re trying to broaden everyone’s horizons. [We have one mentee who] was torn between fashion and a medical sort of background, so we thought of having a dual mentorship [wherein they] team up and provide this mentee with insight and great opportunity.
E7: You’ve been teamed up with a tech team for two months to develop and work on what you need. What have you been working on with Digital for Good, and how has that gone?
RDGJ: The reason we had reached out to Digital for Good is because we have too much demand for what we can deal with at the moment. We’re sort of sifting through big pieces of information and content in order to select a number of mentees. On the flip side, we have lots of mentors applying, and everyone has an interview, a police check, and all of the credentials checked, so you can imagine how much data is coming through our system and our team of four. Then, [we] have to narrow it down to 150 (mentors) and 120 (mentees), go through all of that information, and manually match.
We kind of describe [our program] to people as a dating service because the match is key. You want to match based on the personality, interest, educational background, and career field of the mentor and the interest of the mentee. We’re looking at where the mentee wants to go to school, where the mentor went to school, what they studied—what we’re doing is manually cross-referencing all of this data in both fields, and then trying to make the best match.
So, we approached Digital for Good to have the optimal relationship and have so many different overlaps and touchpoints, so that [we can be] certain the relationship is going to succeed.
E7: Through the meetings you’ve had with the Digital for Good tech team, what is it that they’re building, and how are they building it?
RDGJ: It’s essentially a matching tool that’ll be able to sift through large amounts of data, and be able to help us in the matching process. But, also we don’t want to completely, 100 percent automate this process because there’s a human element to it. We can sit [together and have a conversation, like,] “Oh, you know what? I interviewed this mentor, and she’s a really outgoing person. And this mentee is very introverted. Maybe they’ll clash a little bit.” So there is always [that] element you have to factor in.
E7: You mentioned that you’re limited to take on 120 mentees right now. What’s your vision for how many mentees you could accept in the next five years?
RDGJ: We want to be able to accept more young women into the program. We would like to be able to offer mentorship to more women in the GTA, but also areas outside [of it]. If you look at suburban areas and other high-needs areas across the province, there are so many women who have very few opportunities, and we could provide more insight and more mentorship to them. And, we really want to make sure that we grow with that thought.
E7: During COVID, how have you shifted and made it work? Are you setting up virtual appointments for the girls and their mentors to do one-on-one time?
RDGJ: Each mentee and mentor have set up their own relationship at the very beginning. They have to meet once a week—they can text and email, and that counts as a meeting—and then face-to-face once a month, and that could be across the internet currently. So, they decide how they want to do it. And so, the mentors and the mentees kind of figure out the best way to get in touch with each other.
For us, as an organization, we were already looking at how we can get into the suburbs, so we were already looking at different platforms pre-COVID. What would that look like to put things online, and what would the experience be like? We had done the research, [and] we already knew how to use Zoom, so it wasn’t a hard transition to make.
I would say, though, there’s something very different about being face-to-face with someone and being in a room with a hundred other girls and a hundred other mentors. There’s an energy that’s palatable; there’s something special about that. So, we’re working with a really incredible educator to help us bring that experiential piece online.
(Story by Editor-in-Chief, Gracie Carroll)