• Tiumalu Peter Fa'afiu is the chairman of First Foundation Trust. Contact: admin@firstfoundation.org.nz

Since 1998, First Foundation Trust and its partners have provided scholarships to more than 500 young people from low decile schools to undertake tertiary study. Most are Pasifika or Maori and the first in their families to attend university.

They are top of their class and have leadership potential. Corporates, philanthropists and individuals provide financial assistance - it is a hand up, not a hand out.

In addition, the companies provide paid work experience to teach work ethic and organisational culture to the students but the third pillar, mentoring, has the most impact.


The word "mentor" has its origins in Greek mythology. In Homer's Iliad, Odysseus asks his trusted friend Mentor to look after his son Telemachus while he is away at war. Mentor became an adviser, guide and father figure to the young man. Mentoring is important today as it was in ancient times.

Every year, First Foundation makes a "shout out" for mentors. These are often professionals who might come from similar backgrounds, or others who don't have an understanding of the environment these kids grow up in.

One mentor said to me that her mentoree didn't invite her around to the family home in the first year of their relationship because the mentoree's family home was a garage. The mentor was raised in Epsom. She was amazed by the power of resilience in this young woman - notwithstanding all of that, the mentoree topped one of her university classes.

The money to pay the fees helps a lot. But it's the mentoring from senior and middle managers that is priceless.

The relationship between mentor and mentoree needs to be a strong bond. It requires patience, commitment and a lot of tissues.

One New Zealand-born Samoan student described it like so: "I worked at a big corporate. My mentor was pretty senior. I was a kid from Mangere bussing in every day for uni and in between time I was working at one of the biggest companies in New Zealand. My views were taken on board, I was treated with respect, and when I did something wrong, my mentor took me aside and explained it to me. He gave me parameters, attention and networks - I will always be indebted to him ... now I buy his mocha."

There are a number of good mentoring programmes in New Zealand. A number of kids in these programmes are raised in environments devoid of emotional support, most often not the parents' fault. The priorities are often God, food, and rent.

As a proud parent said to his son's mentor at a graduation ceremony: "My wife and I support our son very much in everything he does but I don't understand the corporate life. He comes home, tells me he learned this and learned that from you. He's very happy. I'm just a cleaner ... but I'm very proud he will be just like you - strong, successful, and a business leader. You are now forever part of our whanau."

Mentoring is not all smooth sailing. It's more challenging when the mentoree and mentor have different backgrounds and upbringing. It requires resilience and commitment from both sides. The common bond however remains the same. Aspiration.

New Zealand schools try their best to encourage and support our kids, parents are there to provide comfort and love but they can't do it all.

So when the call comes out again from organisations that offer mentoring programmes, I urge managers to seriously consider joining or supporting.

You might just end up changing someone's life.