I scour the globe for stories worth reading about ventures that are a true force for good for humanity and our planet.
That’s why I’m THRILLED to introduce Deborah Heiser, Founder and CEO of The Mentor Project™.
Deborah Heiser and The Mentor Project’s mission is to utilize the world’s most precious natural resource. Our experts in STEAM, law, business and finance are working to mentor the more than 2 billion students around the globe for FREE. Our mentors pass on their knowledge and skills to change the trajectory and global impact of the next generation.
Their impact to date? More than 61,000 online and in-person students have received free mentoring from experts across the United States, Argentina, Russia, and India.
Let’s dive into the deep end.
Diana Tsai: What’s the problem you’re solving?
Deborah Heiser: We are creating equal access to world expert mentors for students around the world who would otherwise never have access to this kind of knowledge base. Our mentors go into schools, create online content, develop and mentor hackathons, develop conferences, pitch contests, podcasts, television, and mentor individual students virtually. We do this for FREE so all students can have equal opportunities for access to world experts.
Tsai: What is the MEASURABLE IMPACT you’ve made to date?
Deborah Heiser: We’ve served 61,000 students in 4 countries (the US, Argentina, Russia, and India). Half of our students are in underserved communities.
A story I love to share about how our mentors and partners change communities: in Robeson County schools, one of the poorest counties in the United States, we partnered with Embedded Ventures, who donated 8-bit computers to three classrooms. 8-bit computer assembly instruction by Jenna Bryant as part of their technology curriculum. This live program was also live-streamed on twitch. Following this, we partnered with Ad Astra to put in a National Stem Honor Society chapter to continue their growth in STEM.
Tsai: Can you share some more stories of how you’ve transformed lives through your work?
Heiser: During the height of the pandemic, one of our mentees had an idea to patent a door handle that did not require the use of hands to open it, was able to get a patent for his vision with mentors Jura Zibas and Bob Cousins. Bob, the prolific innovator, and Jura, an IP Superlawyer, worked with this mentee for free on the necessary forms, the searches required, every detail needed to file for a patent. A patent is out of the realm of possibility for most people, but because they worked each week with him for free, he could get a patent pending! And, for a 16-year-old, this is a life-changing experience. The world opened up for this mentee with possibilities, new confidence, and new skills. He plans to apply for college to pursue his passions for technology and innovation.
I also want to share a story about how our work impacts our mentors. Bill Cheswick, the “father of the firewall,” said to me, “ I want to go into classrooms to teach 4th graders, quantum mechanics.” Bill, well-known worldwide, well-known worldwide, had time to mentor but couldn’t find kids to mentor for his world-changing cybersecurity work. He simply didn’t have access to young kids. Bill’s life changed as soon as he started going to school. He went as often as schools could have him. One school named the day he came in “Ches Day.” He drove his Tesla from his farm in NJ to the Bronx, Long Island, and schools in New Jersey. Bill became invigorated, productive, and excited to plan programs for elementary school through high school.
Once the pandemic hit, he had to stop going into schools, but now that they are reopening, he is ready to hop in his Tesla to drive to North Carolina for some in-person mentorship in schools. Bill is fulfilled and productive and knows his expertise is not being wasted, which has been transformative.
Tsai: What motivated you personally to start this company/organization?
Heiser: As an Applied Developmental Psychology and aging specialist, I came to think of mentorship from the mentor’s perspective. Research shows that we are built to want to give back to others by the time we reach midlife (at the time we become experts). Erik Erikson coined this stage in our lives Generativity. In my coaching practice, I kept meeting people with expertise but without an opportunity to mentor. A friend introduced me to Bob Cousins (the guy who patented how we use credit cards on the internet and was named 2020 Inventor of the Year), and he introduced me to countless innovators who also didn’t have access mentees. Bob and I founded The Mentor Project to connect mentors with mentees.
Tsai: A little vulnerability – how do you take care of yourself so that you can be the best version of yourself for the world?
Heiser: I surround myself with people who are intelligent, generative, and supportive. Exercise has been the most helpful way I can release stress. I also joined a pickleball team.
Tsai: Where do you see your organization in five years?
Heiser: I see The Mentor Project reaching a million mentees in 3 years and expect we will be in at least ten countries in five years.
Tsai: How can readers get involved / support/help?
Heiser: Get involved by going to our website. If you’d like mentorship, click our Ask a Mentor button. Check out our website if you’d like to access our podcasts, video content, join a hackathon or conference. You can apply to become a mentor by contacting us through our website as well. Access our podcasts on all major platforms.