What’s it like being a mentor to someone with a refugee background? KPMG professionals explain.

You might have heard about the Finance Academy, an online training program for 20 financial talents with a refugee background. But did you know the Finance Academy also has its own mentor program? Almost two months into their coaching experience, KPMG professionals and Finance Academy mentors Iris van der Weide and Leonor Pompeus Dos Santos catch up and share their experiences.

Finding a new job in the Netherlands is not an easy task for most people with a refugee background. In the Finance Academy mentor program, participants are matched to professionals from one of the participating organizations (EY, Adyen, Rabobank & KPMG). Mentors support their mentees in their career journey, but according to Iris and Leonor, the mentor program has proven to be much more than that.

The kick-off

Iris: “Almost two months into the mentor program and several coaching sessions behind me, it’s time to reconnect with my colleague Leonor. We met each other prior to the kick-off of the program. A program that we joined for different reasons, but both of us were equally anxious to meet our mentees and to understand more about what would be expected of us.”

After an interactive kick-off session, where mentors and mentees were matched and learned more about the program expectations, the coaching sessions began. Since then, both Leonor and Iris have had weekly digital sessions with their mentee. How have their experiences been so far? How can they add value and what have they learned themselves?

What we have in common

Leonor: “Coming from a different country myself, I very often realize how much I have in common with my mentee. Our weekly discussions range from cultural differences and how to deal with them in the best possible way, to ordinary catch-ups between two, very similar, people where one was maybe ‘lucky’ enough to be born within the EU, where your studies are expected to be aligned between countries and your cultural differences don’t seem to matter too much.”

Iris: “What impressed me most during our weekly sessions, is the amount of courage it must have taken to leave your country with your family, and then having the resilience to start something new. During our weekly coaching sessions, we have explored the challenges of finding a position in the Netherlands if your language skills are not yet sufficiently developed; how application procedures work; how to write a good CV and cover letter and how you can pitch your story. My mentee has a bachelors degree and took many courses to become more qualified for the job, which demonstrates his determination.”

Adding value by building self-confidence

Iris: “But it’s not only about finding a job. We’ve also been practicing some Dutch in talking about trips with his kids to the zoo, and discussed practicalities about where to find supplies for his house that was allocated to him after two years of moving between asylum centers. Something that struck me during our sessions is his low of self-confidence. Particularly here, I see that I can add value, by positive reinforcements through weekly goal setting and jointly revisiting and celebrating achievements, even the small ones. It helps to put the challenges we’re all facing due to the COVID-19 situation into perspective.”

Leonor: “I have noticed how my mentee, a bright and eager person, has struggled to leave a difficult living situation only to find herself fighting a battle to prove her value and escape the big stigma around the label ‘refugee’ that always makes her feel like she is one step behind. This is where my role in the program has surprised me. While focusing on building skills and preparing for the job market is an important part of our job as mentors, we end up working a lot on just building the confidence that, regardless of the level of experience or efforts to build a resume in the Netherlands, a collection of no’s over time can inhibit.”

“It has been a rewarding experience that has helped me gain perspective on how fortunate I should consider myself and how much our global community still needs to work on ensuring acceptance and equal opportunities for smart and capable people such as my mentee and so many other people that see too many closed doors when all they want is an opportunity to show their value.”