by Brenda Branswell
Fresh out of graduate school and faced with two internship offers, Rochelle de Goias
looked for a female mentor for advice.
She discovered how hard it was to find one.
In the back of her mind, de Goias says, “I thought A) that was really unfair and B) at some point in my future that I would create something where there was more of a mentorship culture.”
That notion took shape in 2012 when de Goias founded Girls E-Mentorship (GEM), a Toronto-based charitable organization that provides mentoring for girls who are in grades 10 through 12.
One of her goals is to create a mentorship culture within the GTA, and eventually further afield, “so that it isn’t uncommon to have a female mentor at different points in your life and in your career,” says de Goias, BA’01. “And sort of have that old boys’ network transferred into an old girls’ network.”
The program targets girls who face multiple barriers and the schools it works with are in “neighbourhood improvement areas”, identified as such by the City of Toronto.
“We had outreach into 42 different schools this year, so that just gives you an idea of how wide our reach is now,” says de Goias, a political analyst and consultant who previously worked for the Ontario government.
The program matches the high school girls with female professionals who act as mentors and work with them over a nine-month period. They stay in touch weekly, meet monthly and discuss curriculum topics.
They also attend “GEMinars”, workshops on subjects like time management and interview skills.
“Each GEMinar has a topic and that’s in line with what they’re learning throughout the year,” says de Goias. A mentor and mentee might work on an elevator pitch and then refine it at the GEMinar on personal branding.
If you’re 15 or 16, looking to get a job and meeting someone for the first time, “phrasing that is very difficult for them,” she says.
“We help them sort of craft what they’re thinking in their heads into something that they can convey to an adult. And then they practise it so they feel a little bit more comfortable.”
Many of the girls are newcomers to Canada or their parents are, she says.
The program states that it mitigates the negative effects of poverty through the one-on-one mentorship.
They’ve discovered that sometimes the girls don’t necessarily believe that they can get out of their situation and may not have women immediately surrounding them who have been successful, says de Goias. “It’s very hard to achieve success if you can’t emulate it with someone or sort of follow what someone close to you has done.
“So that’s one way (to lessen the effects of poverty), by breaking that social divide between the mentor and the mentee and providing that guidance in order to change mentees’ self-perception.”
The program also provides paid internships to several girls, which helps them build their résumés, and offers small scholarships.
“We try and help them be able to either get into college or university through scholarships in order to get to the next level in their life so that employment opportunities are increased.”
The mentors and girls develop a very strong connection in many cases, she says. “The mentors find it extremely rewarding.”
And the girls feel so confident by the end of the program, she adds.
“They have said to us that it’s really helping and changing their lives and providing them with opportunities. So it’s pretty cool.”
De Goias, who obtained a master of arts in international relations from the University of London, is married to fellow McGill graduate Duncan Jackman, BA’89.
She says there is interest at GEM in expanding the program and mentions “immense pride” when asked how the experience has been for her.
“It’s hard to describe because you feel wonderful, but it’s more than that. It has sort of taken on a life of its own. It’s my vision, but it’s bigger than me now. And it’s a lot of other people’s vision and they have improved it and made it better. So it’s incredible to be a part of this.”
published in July, 2017