Get Mentoring

Posted on by natalieparker

There aren’t many Get Mentoring mentors who can count statutory service providers, social entrepreneurs and youth offenders among their list of mentees. But as director and founder of young offender behavioural service and consultancy Foundation4Life, Gifford Sutherland’s career path has brought him into contact with mentoring in a variety of ways.

Foundation4Life’s mission is to deter young people from crime through empowerment and changing the attitudes that lead to anti-social behaviour. Aiding ex-offenders in their rehabilitation and reintegrating them into society, Gifford finds himself mentoring both convicted young criminals, those who work with offenders (including reformed gang leaders) and the directors of organisations who run this type of programme. All of which is a long way from the path Gifford chose in his early career. As a graduate, he worked in media and telecommunications for large organisations such as the Daily Mail and Auto Trader. But it wasn’t until he was made redundant from his role as Business Development Director that he teamed up with his future co-founder Denzle Howell to work as co-ordinators on the Coldingley Crime Diversion Scheme. This experience convinced them that ex-offenders and reformed gang leaders were the most credible candidates to help change the way their peers behaved. Turning this concept into a viable business model wasn’t easy, however. Gifford says,

“We first piloted the concept for our business in 2006 but it was 18 months before we were able to launch Foundation4Life properly because we had to work past the initial resistance and scepticism towards our unique style of intervention support service. We knew from our experience that the most credible figures to get young offenders on to the straight and narrow were their peers; gang leaders and reformed criminals who could share their experiences and act as positive role models for those trapped in gang culture. In fact there are many similarities between this type of peer mentoring and volunteer business mentoring. The focus is always on providing a support network that allows individuals to make their own decisions, empowering them to make positive changes. It’s not about telling them how to lead their lives.”

Six years later and Foundation4Life has branched out into a number of different disciplines relating to youth crime prevention, early intervention and behavioural consultancy work: running workshops, lectures, one-on-one sessions and peer mentoring. Although he found his own transition from the private sector to be far from easy, he says that he had two or three key mentors whose support during the early stages of Foundation4Life allowed his business to flourish in a much shorter period than would otherwise have been possible:

“I knew that, although my private sector experience provided me with some of the necessary processes and models for running a business, that experience just didn’t cut it when it came to the youth sector and social care. It’s a very different type of industry and we could have found ourselves making a huge number of mistakes. I knew it was important to ally myself with people who I could learn from and develop a mentoring relationship with. One of these was a senior practitioner from the London Probation Services; her insight was invaluable in deciding how to position ourselves in the market and how to present ourselves to the organisations and institutions we would have to work alongside.”

The success of Foundation4Life and its innovative approach to social enterprise soon brought Gifford into contact with other fledgling businesses looking for a mentor themselves. He says,

“When we started out it was difficult to get a foothold in the market and we had to think creatively about how to win contracts. Over time we learnt how to develop partnerships with bigger organisations, piggy back on other initiatives and achieve success in a number of different ways. Now there are a number of enterprises out there in that same position and I find them looking to me for help. I heard about the Get Mentoring scheme through BTEG (the Black Training and Enterprise Group) and thought it was a great opportunity to help me improve the way I interact with these businesses.”

Now entering their second phase of growth and developing a new five year plan, Gifford suggests that the mentoring skills he’s developed over the years – and refined through the Get Mentoring scheme – complement his move into a broader consultancy role. With a growing number of opportunities for social enterprises through statutory provisions and the Youth Justice Board, Gifford expects to do more mentoring in a formal capacity as part of Foundation4Life’s consultancy work. But asked whether this means his opportunities to volunteer mentor are becoming limited, Gifford says,

“I don’t think I ever want to give up the volunteering side of things. For every organisation that can afford to pay for my time there are several small community organisations with great potential but no funds. It’s important to me that I give some time freely, whether it’s mentoring those who are delivering front-line services to young offenders or directly with young men and women who need support to get them on their chosen career path. I’ve been working with the team at Southwark for several months now trying to get people out of the offending cycle and it is a hugely rewarding experience. ”

Posted on by natalieparker | Posted in Case Studies, Get Mentoring Monthly