One Million Mentors (1MM) is delighted to celebrate its 4 year partnership with Spirit of 2012 on National Mentoring Day 27th October 2021. It seems fitting to be completing our funding relationship with Spirit of 2012 on a high and to shine a light over the 2,500 plus mentoring relationships we have established together since 2017.

In 2016 1MM was just an idea that the other co-founder Rushanara Ali MP and I had, which was inspired by the Referendum vote and the fractures in society which rapidly bred fear and division amongst our communities. In particular, and given their track record of working with young people through UpRising Leadership, both Rushanara and I were concerned by the number of conversations they were having with alumni from the Leadership programme, who talked about their fears and anxiety for their own future, as well as for family, friends and future generations in their local communities. Young people were anxious about what Brexit would mean for them, especially those that came from marginalised or disadvantaged communities, who were finding it increasingly hard to navigate the changing and challenging times ahead.

Rushanara and I’s response was to establish a big, bold and ambitious programme to connect one million young people to one million trained mentors who would act as trusted adults. They would provide one-to-one mentoring in order to support and guide young people at a scale not seen before in the UK. The impact would be two-fold; firstly to support young people, especially those with unmet needs with educational attainment and securing meaningful employment, secondly to bring local people across difference to build trust and resilience in order to deal with the ever changing landscape.


The US and Canada have delivered mentoring to scale for decades and have a strong mentoring ecosystem with a framework for delivering and tracking the impact of effective mentoring on both mentors and young people. In the UK the mentoring system is weak, patchy, small scale and with no real evidence or data to demonstrate impact. 1MM partnered with Spirit of 2012 to address these issues in the UK and to strengthen the mentoring ecosystem in order to scale connections between people from different backgrounds, build community cohesion and support the life chances and wellbeing of young people during these unprecedented times.

As a social innovation startup, 1MM needed a funder who would give it the freedom to pilot, test, fail, revise and then stress test its offer on a continuous basis. It needed funders who were not limited to measuring impact by numbers alone but to invest in the process and get under the skin of what constitutes effective mentoring.

Securing Spirit of 2012 as a funder was a match made in heaven. Spirit of 2012 became an early adopter of 1MM’s idea and were committed to a long-term relationship of investment, learning and scaling up.

1MM has been on a rollercoaster journey for the past 4 years. We started our journey focussing on providing mentors with a high quality training and ongoing support offer and worked with youth partners who took care of the supply chain – the young people. Rightly, Spirit of 2012 and other funders challenged us to provide the same quality of training and support to young people so that both sides came prepared to the relationship.


We worked with educational institutions to think about the best way to engage young people who needed mentoring the most, but were least likely to put themselves forward. We started with the lowest hanging fruit, the young people eager for a mentor and then we worked with those young people to understand how we could motivate their peers. These ‘pioneer’ mentees became our Ambassadors and were key influencers in school to inspire and motivate other young people to sign up to our offer.

Our ability to sign up diverse young people with unmet needs (over 60%) became the catalyst for scaling in our different regions. In 2017 we started in two or three schools in each region and by 2020 we were proud to offer 1:1 face-to-face mentoring, one hour, once a month to almost all the secondary schools in Cardiff, 90 % of secondary schools in Manchester and had a presence in the majority of colleges in West Midlands. We were confident that we would hit 100% reach across educational institutions in each of the regions by the end of 2021. Our mission to scale began to feel very real, backed by independent research from the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) which concluded that our offer had an impact on young people’s confidence, personal skills, employability skills, social connections and well-being.

When the pandemic struck we had to suspend our model of face-to-face mentoring which no longer became viable. Like many organisations we needed to pivot quickly and develop a virtual mentoring offer to meet the demands of young people who urgently needed support. Due to safeguarding concerns with 1:1 online relationships the educational institutions we worked with were reluctant to offer under 18s virtual mentoring. We therefore focussed our efforts to support the growing numbers of young people (aged 18 to 25) at risk of unemployment.

During the pandemic we had a surge of volunteers keen to mentor, and a significant number of businesses keen for their employees to sign up to a structured, safe and secure online volunteer offer.  We therefore needed to develop our systems in order to meet the increased demand from our key stakeholders young people, local communities, employers and youth partners. This was against the backdrop of a fragile funding landscape and the majority of our staff being furloughed.


It was at this time that our relationship with Spirit of 2012 came into its own. Despite the high level of uncertainty, Spirit of 2012 honoured its funding commitments and supported our digital transformation and also our need to focus on a different target group. The Co-founders and the 1MM team credit Spirit of 2012’s compassion as a funder and flexibility during the pandemic without which 1MM would not exist today.

Since March 2020 to the present day 1MM has focussed on providing high quality 1:1 virtual mentoring to over 18s. The ability to connect people across geographical boundaries has been transformational as has our ability to offer mentoring to young people in places that seemed too difficult to reach in our early years such as in Llandrindod Wells, Rotherham, Wigan, Dagenham and Sunderland.

This month 1MM in partnership with  Spirit of 2012 we launched an independent research report into the benefits of face-to-face and in-person mentoring vis a vis virtual mentoring by video calls. 80% of our mentors and mentees would prefer a hybrid approach to mentoring with intermittent opportunities to meet in person, and then conduct the rest of the sessions online. Interestingly it is our mentees who most want the physical interaction! This research coupled with significant investment in our technology has put us in a unique and exciting position to provide choice to our mentees to have face-to-face mentoring , hybrid mentoring or then virtual mentoring – a real game changer! All very important as we complete our pivotal relationship with Spirit of 2012, positioning us strongly to reach our ambition of a million. 

As we celebrate National Mentoring Day 2021 there seems to be a real shift in the understanding and interest of the power of mentoring as a UK policy tool.  In a post-Brexit, post-pandemic era, scaled up high quality mentoring relationships to connect people, build resilience, and to nurture the abundance of talent we have in our local communities, needs to be central to the Government’s agenda to build back better.

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