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Tonya Surman

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For years I have resisted the idea of mentorship. The word was too big and loaded for me.

I hated the idea that someone had something to teach me, and I hated it even more that someone else might look up to me to be their teacher. I didn't want that type of responsibility. I guess I was unimpressed with the perceived power differential.

But a couple of years ago something happened. My world got bigger than me - more than what I could handle alone. I was confronted with big questions. My organization was growing, the potential was immense, my goals more audacious, my responsibilities increasing, and my ability to sort through it all became overwhelming.

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As my world got bigger, I found myself drawn to specific people. I was having lunch with people who were smarter, more compassionate, clear, strategic and motivated than I was. They were wise, insightful, and they didn't let me get away with anything. I found myself delighted by engaging with these amazing people. Then it hit me: "Wow. These folks are my mentors."

It was a humbling moment when I realized I had naturally surrounded myself with a diverse group of wise elders that were rooting for me.

Last year, in celebration of the Centre for Social Innovation's fifth birthday, I held a lunch for a group of these folks on a rooftop in Toronto, overlooking the most spectacular view of the city. I had been scheming to bring them together as a way of saying thank you for the incredible wisdom and support they had offered me. It was a real awakening to realize that I needed to surround myself with people who love me, but who will also tell me when I am going astray, who will help me focus on what's important and who can assist me when making informed choices about what I choose to believe and bring forward into the world.

Basically, this is the group of people who can tell me when I am screwing up, and I love them for it.

So what have I learned? Am I a convert now?

Sort of. Mentoring is about sharing. It is about supporting the leaders of tomorrow, and it is about meaningful relationships. Mentorship traditionally takes place between two people, one experienced, one less experienced, but I think the traditional concept of mentorship is breaking down.

The new model is networked mentorship, where we access a diverse range of people with different levels of experience from a variety of disciplines. In this way we learn from a wide range of people, ideas and resources. And it is way more fun.

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Most importantly, this networked approach puts the onus on the individual being mentored to develop authentic relationships with a greater number of motivated and inspiring people. I didn't rely on just one mentor to handle the insanity of both personal and professional development, but rather I drew on different people in different ways, depending on their interests and where our ideas converged. Some were governance geeks, others business moguls, others kept me true to my social values. It is this diversity of strengths that made me, and continues to make me, who I am.

When it comes to giving back, I realize I am not a mentor in the traditional sense. I am waiting to be approached by people with real ideas, a burst of enthusiasm, a dose of honesty and a touch of creativity. What do they want? Where do they want to go? What can we build together?

I challenge the people who ask me questions to push their questions, ideas and projects further. And I assume that one day down the road we'll be having a glass of wine in my living room, musing on how far we've both come. This is the new mentorship. This is authentic mentorship.

Special to the Globe and Mail

Tonya Surman, recently named an Ashoka Fellow, is a co-founder and executive director of the Centre for Social Innovation, whose mission is to catalyze, inform and support social mission projects that use collaborative and entrepreneurial strategies to advance social and environmental well-being. She has been founding and managing social enterprises for more than 10 years and she has built her body of knowledge around multi-sectoral collaboration and entrepreneurship for social change. Ms. Surman will be speaking at re:Vision2010's Earth Hour Event at MaRS Discovery District in Toronto on March 27. For more information visit the re:Vision2010 website .

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