According to a recent study, 45% of Czechs think that they don’t have the power to influence how problems in their communities are addressed. In our program Don’t Be Afraid of Local Politics, we show participants ways of getting involved in their town or city government. They take part in workshops, consultations and mentoring by a town councillor or mayor over a period of several months.
How do we find mentors for future local politicians?
Connect former program participants and mentors, discuss mini-grant intentions and finalize dates for training sessions and events through June: that was the agenda at a recent meeting of the team which runs Don’t Be Afraid of Local Politics.
The program runs from autumn through spring. We currently have 23 participants who are planning or seriously considering running for local office. This year we have 18 women and 5 men.
Along with training and workshops (both online and offline), meetings to exchange experience and the option of applying for a mini-grant, the program offers participants mentoring from an experienced local politician. How do we look for and select our mentors?
By the time a participant meets his or her mentor for the first time, we have already put in a lot of work. During our initial interviews with applicants, we ask which of the program themes they are most interested in, as well as for names of specific people who might serve as their mentor. In November and December, we followed with another round of interviews with our participants. We discussed in detail what they hope to get out of mentoring and planned further steps to find specific mayors or councillors. It’s important that mentors fit participants’ real needs. Every year we approach new people, which sometimes takes quite a bit of investigative work, searching by topic on the Internet, asking colleagues and discussing as a team who might be suitable for each participant. The main condition is that mentors have personal experience as local elected officials.
The Don’t Be Afraid of Local Politics approaches potential selected mentors. “We were happy that almost all of the experienced local politicians we asked agreed to become mentors, just like in past years. In some cases we were surprised by how quickly they responded. We got a positive response just 15 minutes after sending the email. The mentors appreciate the support we give participants, because they would have benefitted from something similar when they were starting out in local politics,” says program staff member Tereza Mádlová. This year’s mentors include current and former mayors and councillors from towns like Klatov, Ústí nad Labem, Jablonec nad Nisou, Prostějov and Brno.
What mentoring looks like
After the initial meeting to connect the participant and mentor, which we facilitate, the two agree on what the mentoring will entail, the topics to be addressed and how meetings will take place, e.g. where the visits will take place, whether they will visit specific institutions or organizations or take part in council meetings. Mentors spend a total of 10 hours in discussions with participants, which give participants a glimpse of what it means to be a local politician and prepares them for what to expect if they run and are elected to local office.