There are 7,865,725 youth under the age of 19 years old living in Canada. Yet thirty per cent of youth report never having an adult mentor of any kind. This means there are millions of young people who grow up without the guidance of someone who can offer them advice and resources to deal with the day-to-day challenges that they face. Many of these youth will not have access to positive role models, cannot envision a career and possibly, due to circumstances at home or school, do not feel that they matter.
National President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada (BBBS), Matthew Chater, aims to change that. To him, mentorship should be considered an essential service to our youth and community and should be seen as, “one of the most critical early interventions,” he notes.
Evidence shows that mentorship programs for youth also have positive outcomes for the economy. According to a 2014 report by the National Mentoring Partnership, every dollar invested in youth mentoring results in a $3 return on investment to society (e.g. reducing justice and health services costs and improving employment opportunities).
Leading the vision of the organization, Chater’s objective is to alleviate the pressures that youth face by acting as an advocate and fostering a safe space for support. Across Canada, BBBS helps 41,800 children and youth develop the confidence to achieve more through mentoring.
Here, Chater shares why the ROI of mentoring our youth is the greatest guarantee of a positive and innovative future.
A Realized Potential
Growing up, Chater was one of the young people who was fortunate to not have to look too far for support and mentorship. For him, his greatest guidance came from his grandmother and aunt. He remembers, “I knew that they would be by my side when I was navigating complex situations with my parents but also within my social networks as well.” Having their care gave him the necessary strength to pursue his dreams and persevere through any adversity that he faced. The other source of encouragement came from the camp world where he honed his leadership skills and envisioned a career working with youth. Statistics show, those that have a mentor are 55% more likely to be enrolled in college than those who did not have a mentor. The influence of family and camp led Chater to a higher education where he ultimately pursued a master’s degree in Educational Policy studies. With the mission to help young people navigate the complexities of their life.
Little Time. Big Impact.
“Throughout my career,” Chater recalls, “I have had tremendous mentors that have really changed the trajectory of my life.” Witnessing young students who were ostracized by peers or experienced some academic challenges and seeing how isolating that was for them really inspired him to continue on the path of mentorship and development for young people. One study estimates that the human potential lost as a result of our educational-achievement gap results in the economic losses equivalent to a permanent national recession for today’s youth, especially those from under-served communities, mentors can help them find pathways to productive, fulfilling, sustainable lives. Chater describes, “I get a lot of emails from young people who participated in mentoring relationship and they speak to the importance and significance that it had in their life. What mentoring does it helps instill some of those life lessons and skills to thrive within the future.”
The Path Forward
Mentoring relationships can be quite complex and nuanced, which is why as a leader Chater’s focus is on continuously improving the internal systems and processes at BBBS. As he describes, it’s about “how we prepare mentors, work with families, work with our staff teams to ensure that equity, diversity, inclusion, as well as youth voice and engagement is a top priority for us.” The organization does training around trauma as well as critical mentoring, which is a philosophy and tool used to help young people (particularly those from marginalized, minoritized backgrounds). A study conducted by North Carolina State University showed that youth from disadvantaged backgrounds are twice as likely to attend college when they have a mentor. For Chater, “mentoring is not a tool to clear the path for young people, but as they experience challenges in their lives, mentoring provides that ally to stand next to them and give them tools and support to navigate it effectively. To rebound from some of those life challenges.”
A less acknowledged benefit of mentorship is the positive influence that it has on the mentors who give their time. Youth Council is comprised of those who have participated as mentees in BBBS and those who have been engaged as mentors. As Chater explains, “It is a partnership between the two and there are learnings that happen for both the mentor as well as the mentee throughout those relationships. The Youth Advisory Council is not only a sounding board, but also an important tool to help get insight on strategic direction for the organization. The voices of the young people are important for us not only to consider but to take our direction from.”
Doing Good, Differently
Leading numerous campaigns and projects to propel change, Chater has been at the head of two important initiatives. The first is the Imagine campaign, which lit up 26 landmarks across Canada – the CN Tower, The Toronto sign, The Calgary Reconciliation Bridge, the Olympic stadium in Montréal, etc. to raise awareness and ask Canadians to imagine who they can become because of you. The other transformative program is Go Girls. Chater notes, “Whether it is the development of leadership skills in young women or young self-identified women or the challenges that toxic masculinity has in the lives of young boys and how young boys are coming up within a society where that is ever present. Looking at how do we support our mentors in being able to have those critical, courageous conversations with young people to live a life that is one full of compassion and understanding and developing relationships that are healthy into the future.”