CANADA 150: By Mentoring the World We Mentor Ourselves

As Canada celebrates 150 years as a nation, the country had the highest population growth among the G7. But we didn’t get there by having lots of babies, immigrants have become the key to Canada’s future. A mentoring programme is helping newcomer immigrants adapt, and hopefully stay. Dr. Roxanne Reeves reports from Canada.

R.B. Reeves, Article reprinted with permission ( UK,  Coaching at Work)

Here in Canada, we believe, more than ever, that great ideas can come from anywhere. In one Canadian province, seasoned-business mentors of newcomer immigrant entrepreneurs are 


absorbing the ideas and insights of our newcomer residents. Despite the significantly metropolitan-based nature of immigrant settlement in the second half of the 20th century, smaller Canadian cities and communities are now too turning to immigration as an important component of local economic development.

Take the example of a young newcomer named Chin[2]. He’s in his 30s, recently settled, and looking for some perspective on entrepreneurial opportunities. Dissatisfaction back home prompted him to immigrate from his city of 12 million to Fredericton (regional pop. 103,500)[3], the capital city of the coastal province of New Brunswick.  He has a great deal of untapped potential and lots of promise, and while he’s not the only immigrant in town and numbers are rising, he’s still in the minority.

Canada is changing. In smaller cities and towns across the country, one only has to go to the local hockey rink, doughnut shop, or grocery store on a Saturday afternoon to see that cultural diversity is much more prominent than it was only four or five years ago.

Many of us are questioning the ability of newcomer immigrants to adapt, find a sense of belonging, and ultimately stay.  And in rural areas, smaller cities, and towns in Canada, we really want them to stay. Mentorship is increasingly seen as an important part of the larger retention strategy.

Population growth within Canada’s rural areas, towns, and smaller cities has essentially flat-lined.

For example, fewer than one in five or 18 percent of all citizens call rural Canada home.[4] Seniors outnumber children in Canada for the first time in this country’s history.[5] Due to our ageing population and low birth rate, Canada is going to rely increasingly on immigrants for its economic development, so it must maximize immigration’s economic benefits.


For both newcomer immigrants and welcoming communities, effective integration measures are increasingly vital. In Canada, we recently welcomed 39,000 Syrian refugees,[6] and one Canadian in five today was not born in Canada.[7] In other words, persons designated as belonging to a visible minority group comprise approximately 20 percent of the Canadian population, and in Canada’s major cities, the proportion of persons classified as visible minority exceeds 50 percent.[8]  By 2040 immigration will account for 98 percent of Canada’s population growth.[9]

The process of re-establishing one’s social capital is overwhelming; however, cultivating relationships with local residents assists in anchoring immigrants in the new community and forming their identity as part of that community. But how are these relationships cultivated? Who should reach out to whom? Where should that effort come from?

A two-way process of integration that encourages adjustments on the part of both newcomers and the host community is widely regarded as the most appropriate model of integration in Canada. While Canada’s two-way model of integration may work in theory, in practice the onus of adapting to the host community is all too often put on newcomer immigrants.

Learning from my mentee is a really good reminder of how important it is to have intentional conversations and create purposeful opportunities to think and learn.” Mentor-Participant

However, on the Atlantic Coast, one of Canada’s smaller provinces is endeavouring to counter this trend. New Brunswick engages seasoned entrepreneurs-volunteers to mentor newcomer immigrant entrepreneurs like Chin.  Entrepreneurs in Canada and elsewhere often have to deal with significant barriers in getting started and maintaining their businesses. These barriers, for immigrant entrepreneur, are further compounded when they are unable to draw on ties to co-ethnics.  In the absence of institutionally complete communities or strong ethnic economies, immigrants are unable to rely extensively on their own community resources, an element considered instrumental for immigrant business development in large cities.



For newcomer immigrants who are our  “modern pioneer settlers”,[10] choosing small town life on the picturesque shorelines of Atlantic Canada, it’s easy to connect the dots and extrapolate how good dyad relationships benefit newcomer immigrant entrepreneur mentees.

Good mentor relations encourage trust, and mentees benefit through resource exchanges, information sharing, risk sharing, shared IT knowledge, market development, and overall increased network resource access.  Mentors can also accelerate ramp-up time, enable newcomers to avoid damaging mistakes, and share their experience on how to thrive in small-town Canada. According to mentors, many mentees struggle to both reconcile and internalize the implications of demographic and geo-social changes.[11]

“I believe every mentor in the program would agree they’ve learned a lot from their mentee(s).” Mentor-participant


Traditional mentoring is usually hierarchical and patriarchal but intercultural mentoring is more communal and collaborative. The notion that each individual, both mentee and mentor, has unique personal knowledge holdings that they contribute to the mentoring relationship and that perceived relationship success is impacted by this knowledge transfer is not new.[12] And in the province of New Brunswick, it turns out mentor-participants are walking away richer from the experience, and I don’t mean monetarily (that’s contractually forbidden).

There is value to be drawn from the reciprocal nature of mentoring. Local mentors highly value the insights gained from these relationships.   Mentors report that exchanges between newcomers and mentors foster globalization through the dissemination of new products and values across national borders. According to one mentor and echoed by others, “newcomers offer a window on the world!” For local mentors, the experience also:

  • Sparks humility and self-reflection
  • Accelerates collaboration and reduces division
  • Connects not only cultures but often generations
  • Ignites innovation


Local mentors found in their mentees a keen sense of adventure, love and respect for family and community, respect for education, eagerness to collaborate in business and in the community, tolerance for risk and failure, the tendency to dream, and a passion born of necessity. In short, mentors often found their own values mirrored back. Janet Moser, executive director of the Business Immigrant Mentorship Program, said the program has “deliberately chosen mentors who had a good understanding of diversity to take part in the program but, ‘even they had a lot more to learn’. Until you walk in someone else’s shoes, you don’t know. Each person has something to give and gain. Therefore, with an open mind, we’ve discovered that mentoring can be a vehicle for personal development for both the mentor and mentee.”

Because of their ‘fresh eyes’, [mentees] see what could be different —and what could drive innovation and success—it’s a new focus. They’re often ahead of the curve.” Mentor-Participant

Mentors admired coping strategies that Chin and other newcomers adopt to succeed and integrate into the local way of life. Mentors report that one strategy that ran through mentees that they found profound was resiliency coupled with persistence, initiative, and creativity. Each of which anchored mentees in their entrepreneurial journeys and strongly influenced mentor perceptions and learning.  

Canadians are not infrequently the best communicators of what constitutes Canadian culture. We’re better at telling others what and who we’re not as we are frequently compared to our neighbour to the south. According to mentors, learning to become explicitly culturally fluent was an interesting and eye-opening challenge: “They (mentees) ask ‘why?’ a lot. Why we do things a certain way here and why we think and act the way we do. They ask, ‘[w]hy are people constantly nodding at each other on the street? And why are they nodding at me when they don’t even know me!  And why are they so friendly?’”


Mentors found viewing their own culture through the eyes of their mentees eminently interesting if not often entertaining and without a doubt highly enlightening. Overall, mentees assisted mentors in recognizing their culture as a “culture” and understanding that they are imbued with values and norms, the effects of which can be far reaching with the potential to have both reassuring and devastating consequences.

Mentors were exposed, through the eyes of their mentees, to the “unusual” challenges some mentees have faced and to “ignorant” people. In other words, covert or explicit discrimination and other injustices against visible minority newcomers.  Mentors learned firsthand as they watched the creativity and resilience newcomers muster to counter these inequalities.

Their exposure to challenges newcomers encountered was reported as “paradigm shifting”; whereas prior, they may have given ‘lip service’ to such pain-points due to ignorance or may have missed them altogether. Now mentors wanted to “get in-on-this.” Mentors weren’t going to take any “bullshit” from anyone, and they were going to make sure their mentees didn’t either: “Know if they’re ignorant to you they’re ignorant to everyone. They’re just nasty. [If they act like that then] they’re no friend of mine, and you don’t need them as one either!”[13]

“In mentoring newcomer immigrant entrepreneurs, something usually comes up that I never expected to talk about. I not infrequently go away from a meeting having learned something really valuable.” 

Mentors walked away acknowledging not just the blessings of cultural diversity, but the accompanying challenges present in relatively homogeneity small-town Canada. Using an image of an iceberg as a metaphor, mentees showed mentors that acknowledging impediments to ‘smooth sailing’ was useful and that recognizing that the iceberg exists benefits everyone.

When I asked mentors, to whom or what they attribute their strong leadership skills, more often than not, they said from one or more influential individuals — strong mentors. These seasoned-business mentors now include newcomer mentees like Chin and other newcomers as influential role models. The insights mentees foster in their mentors can inspire new ideas for generations to come.

Mentorship is building the Canada that will take us forward the next 150 years.

[2] Names have been changed.






[8] Hier, S. (2007). Studying Race and Racism in 21Centry Canada. In Race and Racism in 21st Century Canada: Continuity, Complexity, and Change. 19-33 Edited by Sean Hier and Singh Bolaria.


[10] Reeves, R. (2016, October 22). Our province needs modern ‘pioneers’. Telegraph Journal, pp, A15.

[11] Reeves, R. (2017). Mentoring newcomer immigrants: Tactics of and recommendations for successful mentors, (Ch. 22). In D. Clutterbuck, F. Kochan, L. Lunsford, N. Dominguez and J. Haddock-Millar (Ed.), Sage Handbook of Mentoring. pp. 358-373.

[12] Allen, T. D., & Eby, L. T. (2003). Relationship effectiveness for mentors: Factors associated with learning and quality. Journal of Management, 29(4), 469-486.

[13]. Reeves, R. (2017). Inter-cultural mentoring for newcomer immigrants: Mentor perspectives and better practices. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 15(1), 186-210.



CANADA 150: By Mentoring the World We Mentor Ourselves

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