New study explores adaptation of a cross-cultural mentoring model

Pryce, J., Gilkerson, L., Baruah, N., & Solis, A. (2022). Adaptation of the mentoring FAN cross-culturally: Lessons from India. Journal of Social Service Research.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Despite the increasing presence of youth mentoring programs in non-western countries, many programs focus on informal mentoring processes and outcomes.
  • This study assesses the effectiveness of applying a cross-cultural version of the mentoring FAN into India’s first and largest mentoring-oriented non-profit organization, Mentoring Together, to strengthen staff members’ skills and mentorship experiences.
  • After the intervention, staff members were more empathetic and strengthened their attunement and mindful skills.
  • Although the staff members felt that the practice didn’t align with Indian culture, the Mentoring FAN still assisted them in becoming more productive and identifying challenges in the mentorships they supervise.
    • Despite the initial discomfort of the Mentoring FAN, relationships went from being asymmetrical & prescriptive to collaborative & open.
  • Cross-cultural mentoring programs need to prioritize shifting mentorships from transactional to transformative through capacity building and collaborations.
  • It’s essential for staff members to become partners, not fixers.
  • Group mentoring is a promising intervention for youth in collectivist cultures.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Youth mentoring programs are active across the globe. Yet, most of the formal research on mentoring has been conducted in Western countries. This article focuses on the impact of a mentoring staff training within a large, multi-site youth mentoring program in India. The focus is on how the cross-cultural application of the Mentoring FAN, a model of attunement, influences staff skills and experience of relationship within the program. Additionally, the research aims to understand what is culturally consonant and discordant in this approach, and how such tension may influence participants’ application of the training. Using a mixed methods design, survey results (n = 15) suggest that staff developed an increase in empathy following the intervention, as well as growth in mindfulness and attunement skills. Qualitative findings from reflective practice and focus groups (n = 13) suggest that while staff found these practices were not consonant with Indian culture and therefore initially challenging to implement, the Mentoring FAN helped them use their roles more productively, and uncover difficulties within the relationships they oversee. Supportive relationships moved from asymmetrical and prescriptive, toward more open and collaborative. Findings have implications for social service practice and research, particularly in terms of culturally responsive adaptation of relationship-based interventions.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

While all mentoring programs aim to build helping relationships, the definition of what is helpful is culturally determined (Sue et al., 1992). Previous research on mentoring has primarily taken place in cultures that value individualism, which differs from a more collectivist culture such as that of India. According to participants in this project, traditional helping relationships in India are often characterized by advice giving to the younger generation, and helping relationships are asymmetrical and often prescriptive. Questioning can be seen as doubting and disrespectful, and rarely do people explore feelings in social or professional relationships. Literature, particularly from the relatively more developed field of workplace mentoring in India, characterizes the Indian culture as “high power-distance,” referring to a high level of distance based on power between groups and/or roles (Ramaswami & Dreher, 2010). This concept is derived from Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory, a framework typically applied to the workplace that emphasizes power distribution and collectivism versus individualism, among other categories. Within this framework, the mentor or support person is seen as one with authority and wisdom (i.e., teacher-disciple tradition), rather than as a collaborator or a friend. In such a relationship, the person supported is not valued for their questioning, but rather for their obedience and trust in the “wiser” role model (Kumar, 2018).

In contrast, U.S.-based research suggests that mentoring relationships that create a collaborative, purposeful connection centered around shared collaboration and goals are central to strong mentoring relationships (Karcher et al., 2010; Spencer, 2006). To create such an alliance, a flexible, youth-centered approach, informed by the mentee’s interests, preferences, and needs, are critical aspects to this connection (Pryce & colleagues, 2018). The Mentoring FAN brought the US-based model of collaborative relationships to the traditional Indian culture for mentoring.

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