On the 24th of June, during European Research and Innovation Days, EIT Alumni joined a dedicated session: “The Role of Community and Mentoring in Driving Innovation – How to foster knowledge flows: examples from Marie Curie Alumni Association, Erasmus Mundus Association and EIT Alumni”, where Dr Katherina F Heil (President of the Erasmus Mundus Association), Dr Mostafa Moonir Sharaw (Chair of the Marie Curie Alumni Association) and Ilona Puskas (Member of the EIT Alumni Board) were invited to speak. Urszula Bogatynska, Project Support Officer of EIT moderated the session.
The discussion focused on how student and alumni associations use community participation and mentors to drive their activities toward research and innovation. The speakers discussed how their communities encourage knowledge sharing across countries and industries.
Here are two highlights from questions posed by Urszula Bogatynska:
In view of the topic for today’s discussion, we would like to know how can we engage communities to participate in the creation of innovative ideas focusing on different objectives?
Illona Puskas (EIT Alumni) stated “The most important is creating conditions so communities can share their ideas, to connect with people and resources, combine all of this into alliances”.
Mostafa Moonir Shawrav (MCAA), shared that one important question that every community needs to ask is “What do we want to achieve with the community engagement?”. Is the engagement object-oriented or curiosity-driven? Once defined, they can use effective communication skills and bring stakeholders together to listen to the community and establish different ideas of co-creation. One good example from the MCAA Erasmus+ project is OEduverse.
Katherina Heil (EMA) added that more tools should be given to empower the community to be innovative and to encourage the sharing of good examples. Lastly, she stated that there is a lot of room for innovation and the most important is to get information out there, to create opportunities for members to meet. A good example is a hackathon, where members can put their ideas into practice.
How do you see the role of mentors and mentees in the facilitation of knowledge sharing across different sectors? Do you think that Alumni communities fulfil their potential?
Mostafa Moonir Shawrav (MCAA) shared that in past surveys the intersectoral mobility is not as popular as interdisciplinary or international mobility and intersectoral collaboration is lower than in academic collaboration. When talking about mentoring, Dr. Shawrav encourages mentoring programmes that can be helpful for researchers to define and plan the next stage of their career. Regarding the last part of the question, he mentioned: “Are we utilizing our full potential? The honest answer is no, not yet.”
Katherina Heil (EMA) highlighted “the benefits of a mentoring programme for mentors, but also for mentees.” She shared that these programmes are extremely beneficial to every person involved. EMA has had a mentoring programme for several years, designed to pair individuals to have a traditional mentoring relationship. This year they have tried to add lectures and interactive sessions to the mentoring programme, and create a safe space in which mentors and mentees could work together; for example, looking at a CV together or designing a future career plan. Regarding using the full potential of Alumni communities, she said: “we are not yet using our full potential, but we are working towards engaging as many people as possible and spreading the word about the success of smaller activities. This is how people move forward as well”
Illona Puskas (EIT Alumni) finalized the discussion, adding “there are a lot of improvements to be made, but [there are] very positive tendencies as well.” In the EIT community, when individuals are still active participants in one of their programmes, most students already cultivate a relationship with the network coach, instructors, and invited experts. “There is a very healthy and quite organic mentor-mentee relationship,” she added, even if it not a formalized mentor-mentee relationship.
The representatives from each community also debated the high demand of mentees, and the lack of mentors and incentives for them to use their free time to help people from their community. Mostafa Moonir Shawrav added that in an organization like MCAA, EMA or EIT Alumni, every member is a volunteer, so finding members and engaging them is always a challenge. Fortunately, there are a lot of members that are committed to the organization and want to share their free time and knowledge amongst the community.