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“Our mission is to connect young people with inspirational role models to support confident and informed decision-making”

August 4, 2021

Brightside is a social mobility charity working to provide young people with outcomes-led online mentoring programmes. We spoke to Louise Jones, Brightside’s Head of Impact, about their mentoring programmes, their impact measurement approach, and how working professionals can help provide networks and opportunities for the young people who need them most

Louise, thanks for taking the time. At Brightside how do you set about measuring the impact of mentoring?

Our mentoring is rooted in a Theory of Change, which is based on an extensive review of evidence, consultation with mentoring experts, our own lessons from many years of delivery, and – most importantly – input from young people, their mentors and our partners. The Theory of Change gives us a framework for programme design, technology developments and impact evaluation. It sets out six outcomes that help young people to make confident and informed decisions: human capital, social capital, hope, coping, self-efficacy, and a growth mindset. We measure the impact of our programmes through an accompanying Quality and Impact framework, which was developed with social investment consultants CAN Invest. Mentors and mentees complete surveys at the beginning and end of programmes, which include academically verified scales to measure distance travelled against our key outcomes, as well as questions designed to measure the quality of the mentoring experience.

This forms the base of our impact measurement approach, but mentoring can be applied in a number of contexts and we have a diverse partnership and programme portfolio. We work closely with partners to understand their aims, and build bespoke evaluation frameworks to help us measure programme-specific outcomes – for example, understanding of the range of roles or pathways into a particular sector.

To help us measure longer-term outcomes, we are members of the Higher Education Access Tracker. This allows us to track young people into higher education and therefore to monitor and understand the education trajectory of our mentees after they take part in mentoring. Brightside aims to support all routes to success and we understand that for many mentees, a confident and informed decision will mean a destination other than higher education. We are keen to explore further ways we can understand the long-term impact of our work that encompasses this.

How can businesses help mentors and mentees enjoy a productive journey together?

Through our partnerships with businesses, we are able to provide young people with insights into particular sectors, the world of work more generally, and develop their understanding and awareness of employability skills. Many young people have aspirations and careers in mind for their future, and support from working professionals can help them break that down and understand the pathways and decisions that will help them achieve their aspirations.

We love working with businesses because it opens up opportunities for building really bespoke and engaging mentoring programmes. Whether it’s designing tasks or challenges for a Virtual Work Experience placement or delivering events, webinars or workshops for young people to attend, these opportunities help create a very rich experience for mentees and mentors, and helps sustain engagement with mentoring.

We know that many of our mentors engage with Brightside mentoring because it’s so flexible; they exchange written messages with mentees so there’s no requirement to travel or be online at the same time as one another. Businesses can help volunteer mentors have an even better experience by encouraging employees to volunteer and thus providing opportunities for peer support, and checking in, hearing their feedback and working with Brightside to do what we can to improve the mentor experience.

Brightside recently published Impact Report 2021 in which you say “Covid-19 exacerbated the stark digital divide between young people from deprived areas and their more affluent counterparts.” Is more investment the answer? If so, what form should this take? 

Issues like the digital divide highlight the need for a range of programmes and methods through which young people can interact with education and career opportunities. Interventions need to be flexible and tailored for the young people they’re working with, and delivered in way that enables them to engage. For example, Brightside mentoring can be done through our app, where mentees can compose messages offline to send later, and our mentoring doesn’t require live chats. While this flexibility is appreciated by our volunteer mentors, it also means that young people with limited internet access, or those who share devices with family members, are able to engage effectively.

As a society, we need to support the next generation to develop knowledge, skills and social capital. While academic achievement is crucially important, we believe that access to personalised 1:1 support and a safe space for young people to discuss their aspirations and how to achieve these, is just as vital to succeed. Every organisation can play a part in this, through encouraging staff to volunteer and share their experience, and working with youth outreach programmes that have an impact on those who have been left behind.

What are Brightside’s goals for the rest of 2021 and 2022?

By 2023, we want to be supporting 15,000 young people a year through mentoring. We are delighted to be building the next phase of our Schools Network, which sees us partner directly with schools across the country and co-design online programmes based around their priorities and the needs of their students, and considering the regional context. We also want to ensure that our programmes and technology support all routes to success, whether that’s work, further education, higher education or apprenticeships.

To this end, we are looking forward to building new partnerships with businesses and encouraging people with a range of education and career journeys to come on board as Brightside volunteers.

Brightside have provided mentoring for over 100,000 young people since 2003.
If you’d like to volunteer with Brightside you can sign up and find out more here, or to talk to us about how to engage your organisation in our digital outreach work, please get in touch with Emma Johnson, our Head of Business Development, at Emma.Johnson@brightside.org.uk.

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