Guest Commentator: Vasiliki Papanikolopoulos, Help Experience Partner, GSK @GSKUS

In what ways does mentorship provide a meaningful experience for young professionals looking to enhance their careers?

Too often, we fear the unknown and are unwilling to ask for help when we don’t know something. We mask the “need to know” with excuses and distractions. Commonly in business, it manifests into blaming a system or calling off a project for another one. Other times, it’s simply that we don’t know. We also tend to stay in our lane, focused on our responsibilities and development. The opposite, the willingness to seek out and share knowledge, is at the heart of a mentee-mentor relationship, respectively. This is my interpretation of the word mentorship and its value – and what I refer to instead as investing in each other’s success. It can be an exchange lasting one hour or one year; it’s not something we are entitled to but is essential for a thriving career.

For young professionals, these exchanges can be quite formative. Since there are so many unknowns, any guidance is warranted. Having said this, the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia’s Pay It Forward program creates an amazing opportunity to learn from others who know something different and to surround yourself with like-minded individuals – who are disruptive, curious, and entrepreneurial in large and small organizations alike. Through the program, I’ve gotten to know Cassandra (Cass) Bailey, my assigned mentor, whom I may not otherwise have met. Cass and I were paired based on my indicated interest to learn about how businesses are run. I’ve learned a handful about what it takes to start a business, but there’s something more. Cass and I also molded a kind of leadership I only read about previously – one that’s inspiring and motivating.

So if I were to ask of you two things: the first would be join the Pay It Forward program (if you are based in Philadelphia!) because it’s well-organized and worthwhile; and the second is if you notice someone struggling, offer to help or direct them to someone else that can help. In the formal sense, this is the role of a mentor. It’s a powerful act that I unfortunately don’t see happening often enough. Lastly, if you don’t understand something or have identified a gap in learning, explore who may be able to help and reach out respectfully. In the formal sense, this is the role of a mentee. Don’t be embarrassed or reluctant about it! If we invest in each other’s success, we inevitably advance our community as a whole, which is the precedent of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia and its Pay it Forward program.

Pay It Forward is a cross-industry mentoring engagement program that pairs young professionals with executives from Chamber member companies. Program participants meet formally as a group and are also encouraged to meet one to two hours per month on an individual basis. Pairings are made based on personal and professional goals and interests, competencies, experience, and expectations. Applications for the Fall 2019 cohort will be available in June 2019.