Today, professionals are told every day how important it is for their careers to have both mentors and sponsors – trusted advisers in their corner who can guide, support, offer critical feedback, and open doors to exciting new opportunities.
But truthfully speaking, it’s easier said than done. I regularly hear from professionals asking, “Kathy, I understand I need a mentor, but I just can’t find one. All my efforts seem to fail me. What do I need to do differently to find – and land – a helpful mentor?”
The challenge for many is that they are not connected deeply or widely enough to great networks that include people who are willing and able to provide high-quality mentorship. In short, not everyone is cut out to be a great mentor, and many professionals today are so beleaguered with handling what’s on their plates that they are not open to serving in as a mentor.
What to do then? One critical solution involves having access to a top-level web platform where professionals in a vast array of organizations and industries who wish to share their guidance and experience are matched with committed individuals at their company who are hungry and grateful for support and feedback.
Ravi is a supply chain B2B expert based in Silicon Valley, and led the design and implementation of supply chain solutions for Boeing 787 Dreamliner. He has been an invited speaker at the U.S. State Department and the World Demographic and Ageing Forum and contributor in a World Bank/Kauffman publication for Angel Investor Groups for his vision to build a global mentoring network for professionals and entrepreneurs. As Ravi describes it, MentorCloud is a “global cloud-based mentoring platform that enables members within an organization to collaborate and support one another to achieve their personal, academic, and professional aspirations. Members can easily connect as subject-matter experts, mentors, mentees, and peers, around specific goals and areas of mutual interest.”
I was excited to catch up with Ravi and hear more about this intriguing idea and platform, and why it’s different from other platforms available today.
Kathy Caprino: Ravi, what compelled you to create MentorCloud?
Ravi Gundlapalli: With hundreds of millions of highly experienced professionals due to retire over the next decade (70M in the U.S. alone), organizations are on the verge of losing an immense amount of “tribal knowledge.” It is unrealistic for organizations to expect their seasoned employees to download all of their knowledge and expertise into a book or report to be used for future reference. Instead, organizations need a way to connect their seasoned employees with aspiring individuals to facilitate the transfer of knowledge in the most organic and effective way possible.
My team and I at MentorCloud are striving to do just that. MentorCloud is the first online platform designed to bring together sharers and learners, mentors and mentees, no matter where they are in the world.
Caprino: How did this idea emerge for you?
Gundlapalli: “Mentoring Beyond Borders” was the name I gave in 2009 to this vision of building a global mentorship platform. I wanted to do something big and extraordinary that would help people achieve their life goals by connecting with quality mentors.
I had already experienced first-hand the power of a successful mentor/mentee relationship. In 2008, I attended the “Igniting the Genius Within” conference, held at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, India. After delivering the keynote, I was intrigued by one of the students who stood up to share his thoughts on youth leadership.
Srikanth Bolla, a high school student at the time, spoke of an audacious goal to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the top technology institutes in the world. Despite being visually challenged himself, Bolla aspired to succeed in obtaining the best education, become an entrepreneur, and ultimately help the youth of India, particularly those with disabilities, find accessible education and employment.
Inspired by Bolla’s passion and confidence, I took him on as a mentee. Through the process of our mentoring relationship (and aid of my network), Bolla was able to achieve his life goal. He graduated from MIT and has since founded two successful companies, Samanvai and Aasadeep, both working to better the lives of people with disabilities in India.
My experience mentoring Bolla and watching him grow and succeed gave me a sense of satisfaction I have never felt before in my career. I realized that this sort of opportunity should not be left to chance encounters like the one that brought us together. I believed that millions of people have Bolla’s same sort of potential, but lacked the resources and guidance needed to succeed.
That’s when I first began entertaining the idea of building a global mentorship platform. But it wasn’t until February 2009, when a plane I was on nearly collided with a helicopter during a flight from Mumbai to Delhi that I began to feel a real sense of urgency to fulfill this critical purpose for me.
Caprino: What does MentorCloud do that other mentoring organizations or online platforms don’t?
Gundlapalli: MentorCloud transcends organizational and geographical boundaries to facilitate the convergence of experiential knowledge and expertise with aspiration.
MentorCloud supports the belief that mentoring has the power to change people’s lives in five significant ways:
1. Transferring the advantage of hindsight. We all know that hindsight is 20-20. With mentoring, another individual’s hindsight becomes your 20-20, helping you make the right decisions and avoid costly mistakes.
2. Setting expectations. Good mentors serve as “forward-view mirrors” by giving you a perspective on what to expect ahead.
3. Providing clarity. A mentor can help you identify what core strengths and weaknesses you possess that you may not have seen on your own.
4. Sharing networks. By opening their networks to you, mentors provide you with the conduit you need to build lasting connections that will accelerate your growth and success.
5. Recognizing potential. Just like my encounter with Bolla, a knowledgeable and caring mentor can be the one thing that transforms a spark of potential into a great success story.
Organizations are more global than ever before, and experts and learners need to be more tightly connected across divisions if the organization wants to increase productivity and innovation and remain competitive.
It’s not enough to recruit good talent, a process that many organizations have mastered. In order to be successful, organizations need to address the issues of employee retention and engagement. When employees learn and grow, they tend to stay. When they feel stagnated, they tend to disengage or look for other opportunities.
By offering a strong mentoring framework, MentorCloud fosters learning and development, which in turn improves productivity, engagement and retention. Organizations that are serious about attracting and developing top talent should look at MentorCloud as a way to organically build a strong talent pipeline and brand by enabling their employees to guide and inspire future workers.
The benefits extend far beyond the organization itself; employees who participate will realize significant rewards as well. Unlike traditional mentoring platforms, MentorCloud creates a social community of sharers (mentors/experts) and learners (mentees), where the sharer and learner both benefit. Sharers get recognized as knowledge-hubs and highly valued employees; learners get recognized as engaged employees and rising stars. Mentoring interactions are enriched with curated content that helps mentees learn and achieve their goals faster. With MentorCloud,the overall culture of the organization becomes one that fosters teaching and learning, sharing and growing.
Finally, platforms like LinkedIn are a great place to learn more about people and receive advice from mentors through discussion forums, but the interchange is not confidential. The advice is also not specific to the individual user, which is a drawback for many to build trusted meaningful relationships with their mentors.
Caprino: So how does it work exactly, and how does that help the typical professional wanting mentorship?
Gundlapalli: MentorCloud is private-labeled to a particular organization so members, whether they are employees at a company or entrepreneurs/mentors at an accelerator, or alumni/students of an academic institution, need to be invited to their respective private networks. Users can import their LinkedIn profiles and express their preferences for sharing and learning. They can search for suitable mentors/mentees and the platform also has a recommendation engine. All interactions are online and private, and integrated to users’ email so it becomes effective and easy for both mentors and mentees to keep in touch.
Users can also share insights and tap into the collective wisdom of their community. Roundtables allow experts to share their wisdom with multiple people at the same time (group mentoring).
The platform provides rich analytics and dynamic reports for organizations to easily identify knowledge-hubs and rising stars in their organization for leadership planning and talent mobility.
Caprino: What’s next for MentorCloud, and what excites you most about the next chapter?
Gundlapalli: We are truly humbled by the momentum and interest we are seeing from all over the world, and the people who are rallying behind MentorCloud. We are excited to launch a new version of our platform in a few weeks. I am reminded of a quote from the former President of India Dr. Abdul Kalam which I paraphrase – Dreams are not what you see when you are asleep. Dreams are what keep you awake. I stay awake thinking about what else we can do to quickly help 100 million people achieve their fullest potential.