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Taranaki’s businesses are not the only ones who can benefit from having a business mentor, as Piers Duncan found out.

While it may seem unlikely that a degree in political science and international relations could benefit the region’s social services sector, Piers’ education was a starting point to ongoing support of our community’s most vulnerable people.

Piers is the Project Manager at Kaponga-based Supporting Today’s At Risk Teenagers (START) Taranaki, a community-based Supervision with Activity provider in the youth justice sector. START Taranaki’s programme emphasises building meaningful relationships between staff and participants, and it’s this attachment between young people and positive role models which fosters feelings of safety and care which enable them to make positive changes as they move through the 20-week programme.

While START Taranaki is demonstrably making a positive impact in the lives of participants, this is as a direct result of the programme’s hands-on approach.

“Our staff form genuine relationships with young people who come through the course,” Piers says.

“We’re able to offer stability to those who may not have such relationships in their daily lives, and it is through building trusting relationships that we can learn about individual needs and tailor our service to meet those needs. It is incredibly fulfilling, but not without its challenges.”

This highly engaged, personal approach is behind one of the major constraints facing the organisation - financing. START employs around 15 trained youth workers, case managers, a social worker and a dedicated management team to offer a high ratio of staff-to-participants that is seeing results.

“Our core programme funding comes from the Ministry of Social Development, but increasing our financial resources would see us able to substantially increase the positive outcomes of our work, and extend these to benefit all sectors of society,” says Piers.

A pivotal element in raising funding is being able to effectively communicate the value that START Taranaki delivers not only to participants, but to the broader community fabric.

“Helping more people understand what we do, why we do it, how the service works, and see evidence of outcomes is both challenging and hugely worthwhile.”

Piers first heard about the business mentoring programme through Wheelhouse, a community resource website for organisations and people operating in the not-for-profit sector.

“Being new to management in the social sector and wanting to take every opportunity to maximise the return I could offer to START, I investigated the business mentor support and made contact with Kayleen Schoeman of Venture Taranaki.”

“Kayleen introduced the programme, helped obtain sponsorship from the South Taranaki District Council, and within a fortnight had listened to all the things I was looking for and put her amazing match-making skills to work and found me a mentor who had all the expertise I was looking for,” says Piers.
“The biggest change since having a mentor has been evaluating and revising all the ideas and aspirations for the organisation, making them SMART - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound) and then turning these goals into a prioritised strategic action plan for the next 3-5 years.”

“It has enhanced our understanding of where we are heading as an organisation, and we know how each goal fits with our core objectives and organisational philosophy,” Piers enthuses.

“Our goal is to continually find ways of making our business more effective, and I’ve been able to transfer the skills learnt from my mentor to the way I conduct my own day-to-day work.”

“The best part of having a Mentor has been having the time to talk about the operational side of the business. I really connect with and admire all the skills my mentor brings to our meetings - I get a ‘gem’ from every meeting that I can take back to work with me, from which I gain huge satisfaction.”

“Having a third party who can look things I am struggling with from an outside perspective and with no emotional attachment to the situation is really helpful. Often the answers and solutions are staring right back at you but it takes that fresh perspective to help you realise them.”

With ongoing help from his mentor, Piers and the organisation are on track to demonstrate how its services impact on lives and help deliver real, positive outcomes for young people whose lives have been stacked against them from day one, and have a solid plan in place to expand its offerings and grow its connection with at-risk youth and the wider Taranaki community.

  Making a difference for those that make a difference - START Taranaki  

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