The Odyssey Project of D108: Interview with its founder – Adriana Vasilache

The Odyssey Project of D108: Interview with its founder – Adriana Vasilache

In September 2019 District 108 launched the ODYSSEY PROJECT.

Just like Toastmasters educational Pathways system, this project has two main paths: MENTORING and NETWORKING.

On the mentoring path, the mentor or the mentee is selected based on skills of common interest between the mentor and the mentee. On the networking path, the pair assignments is random.

The aim of the project is to ease the process of finding the right mentor or mentee and network within the Toastmasters community. 

We spoke with Adriana Vasilache, CGD of D108 and the founder of the Odyssey Project asking her many “why’s, how’s, what’s and when’s”. 

Q1. Adriana, tell us how you came up with the idea of the project? What inspired you?

I like to put numbers into figures and observe correlations between different data. While preparing a presentation for a speech and checking the number of club members, of experienced club members and how well the clubs in Finland are doing, it became clear that the struggling clubs have very few experienced members.

Well, you might not really need a study for this, but I hoped that an image tells the story better. It turned out these clubs are also, more often than not, geographically isolated. I also noticed at my home club how the new members were very enthusiastic about getting a mentor, and how the experienced members get easily overloaded. So, to make the story short, after I heard three new members at my club asking at their very first meeting how can they get a mentor, I thought that we should build some kind of mentor pool for Toastmasters in Finland. Soon after I became Club Growth Director and the idea of extending this to the entire district, came only naturally.

To tell the whole truth, I admit that I am a bit shy and was dreaming that this platform can help also those who hesitant to go mentor hunting in the district.

Q2. Why ‘ODYSSEY’? Is it somehow symbolic? 

Yes, it is symbolic.

Here is the place to quote Valeria, our district PR manager, who proposed the name Odyssey with the following:  

When I started looking for the synonyms and the etymology of the word MENTORING I came across an interesting note that Mentor was the name of the person whom Odysseus trusted with the care of his son, Telemachus, while he was travelling.

Then I thought maybe the Odyssey project might work?  This guy had a clear goal but faced obstacles (like finding a great mentor) and he also had to network a lot while traveling home. And the story actually had a happy ending.”

She need not say more.

Telemachus and Mentor in the Odyssey

Q3. Who can participate in the project? How it all works? 

Every Toastmasters member can participate, but we give priority to the Toastmasters members from our District 108.

The functioning principle is the following: for registering, a person fills in a form specifying the skills that he/she is interested to mentor or be mentored. The pre-defined skills are grouped in three categories: communication, leadership of club/district officer skills. If they are interested also in networking they should specify if online or in person meetings are preferred, the city they live in and also several facts about themselves which will be shared with their assigned pair. We also take into account the language in which the participant wants to conduct his/her mentoring/networking meetings in.

The process is structured in rounds: one round starts when the pair is assigned, and each mentoring or networking pair is given three weeks’ time to meet online or in person. After three weeks each participant gets a link to give feedback about their mentoring or networking pair and the process in general. They should also specify if they want to continue with the same mentor/mentee. The pair continues only if both of them desire so. Otherwise a new mentor/mentee will be assigned for the next round, and so on until a suitable mentor/mentee is found. On the networking path the assigned pair changes automatically at every round. The feedback part takes one week, therefore a round takes 4 weeks. When a participant decides to be active in a round it is a sign of respect to stick to the engagement because at the other end of the pair there is a person waiting in vain. This is why after each round there is possibility to decide on whether to continue or not at the next round.

There is also a Facebook group for the platform, which enables sharing mentoring or networking meeting’s experiences, sharing knowledge about mentoring, getting answers to questions about the platform and  keeps the participants up to date with the milestones in their Odyssey journey.

We are now finishing the second round. With the participant feedback collected from the first two rounds, we will adjust slightly the process for the next rounds, but the principle stays the same: tell what you want to learn, teach or discuss about and meet people with whom you can discuss these topics. You might call it a ‘dating platform’ for mentoring, but you get to learn something.

One thing that I want to stress: when thinking of a mentoring platform, people may think more as a place where to find a mentor. Odyssey project is this place and it is also the place to be a mentor. From my experience, being a mentor is a great learning opportunity, not only by learning when teaching, but by learning about how to interact, about how we interact and communicate in a one to one interaction, and ultimately by the spark of inspiration that happens when two individuals are brought together in a meaningful communication.

Q4. Can you share some success stories? What do the project participants say?

I think it’s too early to share stories, but we have testimonials of the participants in the project presenting their experience as a mentor, mentee, or network pair.

“…with mentor excellent, we had email conversation and we have online meetings via zoom. My mentor inspires me, give advices and encourages”. N.S. (mentee)

“It was really good, we have encouraged each other and supported to try new things in Toastmasters”. A.M.F. (networking pair)

“Availability: 5, Implication: 5, Learn: 5. She’s great and I look forward to mentoring her for the months to come”. F.B. (mentor)

“I’ve got a lot of ideas for marketing my club. It is a pleasure to talk with a smart professional”. G.R. (networking pair)

“Our meeting was very successful: Leena shared her experience in TM and helped me to find a person who can give me advices about our Russian prospective club in Spanish. Perfect matching”.  K.S. (networking pair)

“Very nice match. Deep knowledge of Toastmasters and ability to draw lessons from own situation and suggest necessary issues for my case”. P.Z. (mentee)

“Amazing inspiration on how I can improve – well – THINGS – as they don’t apply only to TM life ;)” M.W. (mentee)

“It was more than I expected (in the good way). Questions that I received from the mentor were valuable, I felt that mentor looks like the one who has a lot of experience in mentorship and has great listening skills”. M.R. (mentee)

Q5. Adriana, what are the plans for the future? Will the project continue the next TM year? Would you like to expand it above the D108 borders?

We also plan to change the software tools such that the project participants will adjust in an easier way their settings and preferences. We plan to make the platform available in several languages and this relates to the registering process as well as to the communication in the platform, because the meetings can already happen in the language preferred by the participants. However, this is a much more complex task and it requires to have dedicated person in the team who knows the additional language. Currently, we are happy to receive applications from people want to join our team and have a good command of Polish (the second most spoken language in the district) and could help with creating of the Polish version of the Odyssey platform and with the communication in Polish.

We currently have 70 registrations in the platform and 158 members in the Facebook group. We would like that by the end of Toastmasters year 2019-2020 everybody in the district would have heard at least about Odyssey project and we plan to continue the project also in the following Toastmasters year. Mentoring is a longer process and continuity is important.

We already have several participants outside the district borders and, as previously mentioned while giving priority to the Toastmasters in our district, we also welcome other districts to join. The more variation and expertise, the merrier.  

Q6. Wonderful plans. The last but not least, can you tell us about your role in the project and who is in your team?

Many people have contributed to the Odyssey platform and hoping that I remember all of them I list them here: Joanna Bołtruczyk , Andruţa Ilie, Krzysztof Indycki, Florin Lohan, Valeria Kholodkova, Eugenia Kostoeva, Aleksandr Sakulin, Rafał Staszek vel Staszewski, and Ewa Wojciechowska.

The Odyssey team is currently formed by the following enthusiastic and energetic people to whom I am very thankful (in alphabetical order):

  • Valeria Kholodkova (marketing)
  • Eugenia Kostoeva (marketing)
  • Florin Lohan (technical platform)
  • Aleksandr Sakulin (planning and processing)
  • Adriana Vasilache (planning, processing and communication) and I also get to call the meetings for checking the status and discussing the next steps because I really believe that a platform that enables communication between people who want to learn from one another can only be useful.
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