A mentor should ideally begin by asking the pupil what gives him or her a sense of purpose, writes Arundhuti Gupta

It didn't begin with an a-ha! moment. But I did, somewhere down the road, realise how important it was to connect people who had rich life experiences with young people who needed guidance about important decisions in life. I moved to India from Manchester in 2009 to start a mentoring programme — moving from graduate study in finance that I loved and had wanted to do — to executing an idea in youth development, which I was equally passionate about.

Mentoring I believe, is an impactful spin on volunteering. Socio-economic change in our urban centres has created opportunitybut alsoinequity and alienation. Disadvantaged youth need not only skills, but also an avenue to reach out to people of other generations.

There was, however, one fundamental question that we needed to resolve: Who should we mentor?

We first try to find out if a potential pupil's environment provides absolutely no opportunity for natural mentors.

For instance, is the role we're identifying for a mentor being performed already? We feel there's no point overcrowding a young person's life.

We currently work with a group of girls who stay in a government home in Mysore. They have lost ties with family and perhaps also trust in adults: some of their backgrounds include abuse and neglect. A caring — but administratively stretched — staff look after the girls at the home. Here, I thought, was scope for a mentor.

I believe in the saying: A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.

Our committed Mysore mentors perform the role of that someone else. They push these young girls to work harder, help them develop critical life skills through debates and activities, share stories from their own life journeys, and plug gaps in information and other resources.

A second question has been: what should the mentoring entail? I like to look at this question as a philosophical one rather than a practical one. Our role is not to tell mentees that the best job for them comes from learning x language, building y skills and landing z jobs.

We often have to begin by asking them what gives them a sense of purpose.

That is the only way to play a meaningful role in their lives: facilitate their empowerment by making them the agent of change in their lives, the mentor being their rock in that process.

(Arundhuti Gupta is the founder of Mentortogether, a not-for-profit out of Bangalore that runs structured mentoring programmes.)