KVINFO’s Mentor Network is a great Danish success story. From day one, the Mentor Network attracted many participants and was quick to receive official recognition. Today, seven years later, the network is to be found in five Danish cities.
KVINFO’s award-winning Mentor Network is one of the first – and indisputably the largest – projects to utilise mentoring as a method of integrating women with refugee or ethnic minority backgrounds. The idea behind the network is that by participating in the network, and through a relationship with a mentor, the mentee will be able to realise her potential in the Danish labour market and in society at large.
Each mentee is offered both a mentor and a network. The network is equally as important as the mentor as it has been calculated that up to 60 percent of vacancies within the Danish labour market are filled by way of a network. Many vacant job positions are never advertised and are passed on purely by word-of-mouth through a network.
Many mentor/mentee partnerships focus specifically on expanding the mentee’s network and strengthening her ability to use networking as a tool. But, from the moment a women signs up as a mentor or mentee, her network has already grown.
Five local divisions
Today, the Mentor Network has five local divisions spread across Denmark. The first division was established at KNINFO in Copenhagen in 2003, followed in 2004 by a division in Århus. In 2005, the Esbjerg division began operation and this now covers Varde also. The fourth division was opened in the Vollsmose area of Odense in 2006 in cooperation with the University of Southern Denmark. The fifth and most recent division opened in 2009 in the Tingbjerg suburb of Copenhagen.
Since the project’s inception in 2003, approximately 5000 participants have passed through the network with the matching of around 2000 mentor/mentee partnerships. More than 500 mentees have entered into employment as a direct result.
Today, a series of sub-networks also exist as part of the Mentoring Network. Both mentors and mentees actively initiate and create new networks, facilitated in the early phases by network coordinators. These sub-networks provide participants with the opportunity to meet and discuss various different themes and areas of interest.
The Copenhagen division is still the largest and currently boasts five sub-networks – a literary circle, a DJØF network (lawyers and economists), a writers’ workshop, a diversity network, and a network for women who are passionate about the finer things in life.
The Mentor Network continues to grow. Perhaps the most significant sign of this is the soaring number of volunteers wishing to sign up – both from Danish mentors and from immigrant women who now represent 127 different countries. This popularity underlines the network’s attractiveness and proven impact.
The objectives of the network – “to help ethnic minority and refugee women open doors into the Danish labour market and society as a whole” – have already been achieved many times over. To a large extent, this has been possible thanks to the channelling of Danish women’s resources into the project. The willingness and desire of Danish women to personally contribute to positive integration is one of the network’s most powerful resources.