The concept of an international e-Conference on mentoring had its origins in two conversations. One took place at the annual conference of the University of New Mexico’s Mentoring Institute and involved the Institute, the International Mentoring Association and a number of conference delegates. There was a need, we determined, for a wider exchange of perspectives and experience that was both truly international and brought together a wide range of mentoring contexts and applications – in education, societal change, entrepreneurship, business and so on. Were it held face to face, wherever in the world we would hold such a forum, participation would inevitably be limited. However, an e-Conference would take away the barriers of distance and cost.

The second conversation was part of an on-going dialogue within the European Mentoring and Coaching Council. The distant origins of the EMCC lie in the European Mentoring Centre, set up in 1992 to encourage research and sharing of good practice in mentoring. In the early years of the EMCC, the emphasis shifted very strongly towards coaching and the support of professional coaches. When Lise Lewis, the current President took office, she promised in her inaugural speech to seek to tip the balance of emphasis at least some way back towards mentoring, while not losing momentum on any of the EMCC’s wide portfolio of coaching activities. How could the EMCC provide a voice and resource for professional mentors, and for people involved in mentoring programmes across Europe?

An e-Conference provided an ideal solution for all three organisations. Our criteria were that it should be:

• Asynchronous: so people could participate from anywhere in the world
• Low cost – to ensure that no-one would be excluded by virtue of cost
• Multi-streamed: to give a wide spread of issues
• Moderated, but participant-driven
• Able to result in a report that could be more widely disseminated

All of us involved in the original discussions have been pleased by the number of participants in the first ever eConference in January 2013 and the quality of the discussions. A total of 403 people took part, with a large percentage making a personal contribution to the dialogue (a much higher proportion than might normally be expected from a face to face event!)

An e-Conference isn’t the same as a face to face conference. Among the strengths of this medium are its wide accessibility, multiple simultaneous streams, and low costs, making it a very effective way to reach more people. It’s also a useful opportunity for practitioners, who are unfamiliar with learning conversations on-line, to gain confidence in the e-media as a mentoring and learning tool. On the other hand, the lack of face to face contact makes it more difficult to generate and maintain personal networks within the field of coaching and mentoring. From our experience with this event, it is clear that we need both face to face and e-Conferences.

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Mentoring eConference 2013 book