Fostering positive change through mentoring
With RSM’s mission statement to be a force for positive change, alumni mentoring has come into sharper focus at the school. It provides a positive way for alumni to make an impact, a sustainable way for students to get expert advice, career connections, and acts as a professional sounding board at every stage of their education and into their working life.
Story by Lesa Sawahata
With upwards of 36,000 graduates of its degree programmes active worldwide, RSM has a vast but dispersed – and until now, sometimes under-engaged – alumni community. This situation has been complicated by the fact that RSM, an international business school, exists in the context of the Dutch university system.
A priceless resource
Unlike the UK or US model of alumni engagement in business schools, in which direct fundraising plays an important part in supporting scholarships and other initiatives, giving money has (in the highly-taxed Netherlands, in which universities have traditionally been largely state-funded) not always been seen as a priority.
But money is, after all, just one form of energy. And mentoring – now thrown into sharper focus with RSM’s new externally-focused mission statement, A force for positive change in the world – is being recognised as a priceless resource to achieve that mission, one that not only benefits students but boosts alumni connection with the school. Mentoring is also a sustainable system of value.
‘Alumni: precious as gold’
The ultimate aim is to forge what has been called a “virtuous circle” fashioned of alumni engagement and student satisfaction, and to drive a culture of continuous mentoring at RSM.
‘We recognise that our alumni are as precious as gold, and mentoring has always been important to us,’ says Vildana Gaĉić (MSc Economics and Entrepreneurship 2011), Career Development Manager at RSM, who, in addition to her responsibilities for career development, shouldered the responsibility for mentoring activities over the past few years.
‘Now we are devoting more resources, including new staff, to lifting the profile of mentoring at RSM and really highlighting the importance it has,’ she says. With the hiring of a dedicated new Alumni Relations Manager, Juan Maldonado Alcázar (MBA 2017) in August 2017, mentoring at RSM has an official owner; further, there is now a clear structure of programme-focused accountability.
New life was blown into RSM’s mentoring scheme with the introduction of RSM MentorMe in January 2016. The digital platform makes RSM’s participating alumni mentors (750 at current count), who represent a wide variety of sectors and seniority levels, easily accessible to RSM students.
‘You can meet people from any industry there, and I found it particularly helpful when I was looking for professional consultants to help me with mock interviews,’ says Mara Egger-Büssing, a current student in the MSc Finance & Investment Advanced, who was able to speak with several consultants from Accenture through the platform. ‘It was super-easy because RSM MentorMe has a scheduling feature, so you can just pick from the mentors’ available times; everyone got back to me quickly, and there isn’t that awkwardness of reaching out to someone you don’t know on LinkedIn,’ she says, adding ‘It’s like online shopping for specific advice.’
Finding a career fit
In contrast to bachelor and master students, who need guidance in finding their career path and getting their first internship or job, participants in RSM’s MBA programmes already have significant work experience. Often they are seeking to lift their careers by making a switch in sector, function or country. RSM MentorMe allows them to reach out to as many mentors as they need for industry insights and cultural expertise, per country or company.
For alumnus Guru Jeyachandran (MBA 2017), RSM MentorMe functioned as one arm of his own ambitious strategy for finding his best career fit, which included cold-calling and reaching out to RSM alumni in leading technology functions via LinkedIn.
‘RSM MentorMe was a good platform; everyone is already on LinkedIn, but you know if they are also on RSM MentorMe they are much more interested in helping to guide fellow RSM students and alumni,’ he says.
Ultimately Guru’s proactive networking with other RSM alumni at several alumni events, and his subsequent reaching out via LinkedIn, resulted in a short leap-frog to his “dream job” as Manager Financial Services Accelerator at PwC within months.
Despite the apparent, self-directed ease of use of the RSM MentorMe platform – or perhaps because of it – initially RSM students weren’t making the most of the platform, and alumni were uncertain about their impact after a single interaction with a student.
The main issue for students is generational. ‘Unlike MBAs, bachelor and master students do not pick up the phone. They do everything via text, so asking them to talk to someone they have never met is really challenging,’ says Vildana.
To overcome the challenge of activating students to use RSM MentorMe, a pilot was introduced in 2017: mentoring became a mandatory component of four MSc programmes, part of the Skills for Career Development Course curriculum. The students’ course evaluations were overwhelmingly positive: mentoring got a score of 4.5 out of 5.
Impact of interaction
The success of the mandatory RSM MentorMe strategy has led to another five MSc programmes, making a total of nine, set to implement mentoring in their curricula for academic year 2018-2019. That’s about 1,000 students who will learn about the power of mentoring over the school year. Vildana: ‘What we are hearing from our MSc students is “unless you had made me, I wouldn’t have done it – but I’m really glad I did.”’
In addition, initiatives to increase the all-important engagement and satisfaction of, and between, alumni and students are being rolled out. ‘Feedback indicates that what alumni mentors really want to see is the impact of their interactions with students; if they don’t have repeated meetings or follow-ups, they never see the result of the hours they have volunteered,’ says Juan.
MBA pilot programme
He is preparing a pilot programme based on continuous, multiple mentoring sessions – a minimum of three with the same mentor – for the incoming cohort of MBAs, starting in 2019. ‘Additionally we are working on providing KPIs and capacity training for mentors and mentees, including an online module for students where they learn about what they can get out of mentoring, what meets their needs and how to choose a mentor.’
The future is focused on further expansion and recognition of mentoring. This includes a variety of activities, starting with some adjustments to the RSM MentorMe platform that improve the user experience. Juan and Vildana are also planning to focus more on mentoring for PhDs, and alumni-alumni mentoring. And as the number of students using RSM MentorMe increases, it is important to boost the number of alumni mentors on the platform, particularly those working in such popular fields as consultancy, and in under-represented fields such as entrepreneurship, HR and tech. The aim is to increase the number of mentors by 10 per cent each year.
It’s obvious that RSM students benefit in a variety of ways from the school’s growing emphasis on mentoring. But what makes RSM’s busy alumni make time to mentor? For two of RSM’s stellar alumni mentors, Annemieke Gelder (MSc Supply Chain Management 2000) and Sjoerd Ramsay de Koning (MSc Finance & Investments 2010), it enables them to create positive change while sharing their strengths, experience and insight. It also offers the opportunity for an ongoing relationship with RSM.
‘I’m excited about this renewed connectivity with RSM,’ says Annemieke, who lives, blogs and works in Singapore and who was one of the earliest alumni to join the RSM MentorMe platform. To date she has mentored around 20 students. ‘When the programme was launched I got an email from Alumni Relations and thought I’d like to be part of that,’ she remembers. ‘I have worked with a lot of students in the MBA programmes of the National University of Singapore and thought, if there’s something I can do with my own school that would be even better. It’s nice to give back.’
There can also be reciprocal rewards for mentors willing to share their unique insights – for example, when very talented students want to speak with Annemieke to understand what it takes to work in Asia. ‘Companies are always looking for good people, and who knows – maybe one day this student will work with me. So on the one hand mentoring is giving back, but there is the opportunity to meet talent in this network.’
For Sjoerd, a hedge fund analyst at UK-based Landsdowne Partners who has mentored more than 35 students, there is a philosophical aspect to being a mentor. ‘To move to the corporate world there are certain things you need to know – for example, in consultancies there is often very specific type of interviews, and unless students have access to that knowledge, they won’t succeed in the interview,’ he says. ‘I think that’s not meritocratic: students with the right ingredients don’t always have the right access. So on a philosophical level mentoring levels the playing field, and gives everyone the same chance.’
And the economies of mentoring deliver a lot of shared value. ’A mentoring programme is a very high-efficiency way to give back,’ says Sjoerd. ’If I have the right match with a student on the phone, in an hour I can sometimes give them insights they haven’t heard before that could be of great value in their interview preparation – and for me it’s an interesting chat with an enthusiastic RSM student during my lunch break.’
Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top 10 business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers. Study information and activities for future students, executives and alumni are also organised from the RSM office in Chengdu, China. www.rsm.nl
For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Marianne Schouten, communications manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.