This March the Italian film, “Great Beauty” won the Academy award for best international movie. The film, skilfully directed by Paolo Sorrentino, depicts the decadence of a part of the Italian society immersed in lavish and extravagant parties and living only by memories of past, often presumed, greatness, in the exquisite setting of a timeless and breathtaking Rome.
Italy has spent too much time in recent years vainly looking at itself in the mirror, seduced by the great beauty of its landscapes, history, and art. In the process, the nation has failed to see how quickly the world has changed and progressed. The results are evident from the exhibits of our BGIE cases where Italy, together with my other loved homeland Greece, is systematically in one of the top two positions in terms of recent growth, productivity and employment…unfortunately though starting from the bottom!
Like any good Mediterranean, procrastination is in my blood. I have always wanted to help my two countries, but I felt that this was something I would do in the later stage of my career, when my hair (if any) would be whiter and when my ability to make an impact, I thought, would be greater. The HBS experience, and living in an inspiringly entrepreneurial go-getter country like the US, has reminded me that “Life is Now” and that if you think you have a good shot at making an impact today, then you should absolutely take it!
So here we are. Last summer, I started working with my dear co-founder Stefania Boroli (HBS ‘13) on a non-profit called Mentors4u with the goal of helping Italian university students, interested in business careers make the best professional decisions and reach the height of their potential.
The problem we are facing in Italy is a high waste of talent. Students, often because of structural barriers, fail to develop the necessary skills to be really impactful nationally and competitive internationally. This is even more true for those students who come from underprivileged areas and lack access to resources such as effective guidance and role models. As a result, these students often fail to realize their professional dreams. A recent OCSE analysis painfully shows that Italy is in the last position in terms of educational competitiveness in Europe and the current 42% unemployment rate in the 20-25 age range speaks for itself.
Our partial solution to this problem is to create a platform that connects brilliant, young Italian professionals to talented university students who would love to receive high quality mentorship. The program will benefit from the guidance of highly known Italian business leaders that will function as Senior Mentors.
This is how Mentors4u works. Students will apply on our website, www.mentors4u.com, we will select them on the basis of their track-record, motivation and mentorship needs and will pair them up with a mentor that fits the features requested by the mentee. The mentor will advise and support the mentee for free throughout his/her university years with regular bi-annual calls. They will provide strategic, tailored guidance and inspiration, as well as pinpoint the skills the mentee needs to develop and the best way to do so. The selected mentees will also have access to an online platform where they can interact with other mentors and mentees and use a knowledge center that will contain helpful material and proprietary content. Through our sponsorship, we will help students hone key professional skills such as English proficiency. Finally, our mentees will be invited to annual events where they can meet their mentors and get advice from Senior Mentors.
So far we have brought on board 200 friends/mentors with top professional and academic background (40% have an MBA in one of the top 5 schools in the world, 15% are HBS alumni!). We also involved 10 senior mentors, very important CEOs and business figures in Italy, including HBS Professor Dante Roscini. The Team has been enlarged with our dear classmate Marco Vigato (OJ) as a COO. We are launching the program this April with the ambitious target to enroll 500 students in the first year. We aim to expand the program to other professional verticals in Italy as well as to roll it in other geographies that need it, ideally with the help of current HBS students or alumni. We will run the program in parallel to our respective careers.
The Mentors4u journey has taught my teammates and I that sometimes we underestimate the wealth we can give back to our communities. In our case it was the priceless kind hearts of 200+ successful friends eager to help their country in need. At Mentors4u, we are just creating the infrastructure to let them meet their young talented compatriots and “hold their hands” in a powerful intra-generational circle. Because we believe that while masterfully crafted monuments and sculptures are inspirational and fantastic parts of a nation and its history, the true Great Beauty of a country is really its People.