Learning in practice: ‘Quicker understanding of Afghanistan Relocation Project thanks to mentoring’

How do things work at BZ? Who do you ask when you’re trying to get something done? Where can you read the rules and learn how to work with the various systems? At BZ, we believe there’s a lot more to learning than just taking a course. Fatuma Hashi had worked here for less than a year when she was assigned to the Afghanistan Relocation Project (AOP). Jantinus Smallenbroek was an experienced colleague who was also working on the AOP. He took on the role of mentor and helped Fatuma find her way around BZ.

Fatuma Hashi en Jantinus Smallenbroek
Image: ©academie

Fatuma was still rounding off her degree in international law and had been working in central government for just six months when she was asked to join the staff of the AOP. ‘Very quickly I found myself working on an intensive, politically sensitive project. It felt like I had dived in at the deep end, and it taught me a lot.’

A large number of BZ colleagues helped the AOP bring people safely from Afghanistan to the Netherlands. One thing that made it hard for Fatuma to get a grip on her new job, besides the hectic working environment, was that the AOP was BZ’s first relocation project. ‘I really had to feel my way around and work things out for myself,’ she says. Jantinus noticed that. He took the initiative to support Fatuma during consultations with other organisations and explained who did what in the relocation process as a whole, advising her on the best stance to take during meetings.

Jantinus has been at BZ since 1986, working in a range of jobs and departments and seeing a lot of change. He remembers a time when coaching and feedback were more the norm. ‘With today’s hybrid collaboration it’s not as easy to help someone learn on the job. It makes it harder for new and younger colleagues to learn how the ministry is organised, for example.’

Time for questions

Jantinus offered to help Fatuma understand how the ministry works. ‘Often we would sit down together and Jantinus would read an email with me or share expertise when I needed it. For example, about where BZ’s task ends and that of a partner organisation begins. Jantinus deliberately made it possible for me to come to him with questions, and he was always there for me when I called,’ says Fatuma.

Jantinus enjoys helping others learn. ‘It’s part of what makes my work so satisfying. If I had been more patient, I might have been a teacher. Our contact was intensive in the beginning. I wanted to get a sense of which things were new for Fatuma and where I could advise her. Sometimes all I needed to do was confirm that we had a procedure for something and tell her where she could find it. Or to explain who she needed to involve in something – the consular affairs section or the legal department, for example.’

Relationships between BZ and partner organisations

‘A sense of the relationships between BZ and partner organisations is not something you can pick up on a course.’ Fatuma saw that it’s sometimes better to ask someone directly whether they’ve clearly understood her meaning. And she learned how to proceed effectively in the dynamic atmosphere of multilateral consultations. ‘Now I regularly write down beforehand what I want to achieve during a meeting, which points I want to bring up or what I want to contribute,’ she says.

Good mentoring is a two-way street. ‘I’m inspired by Fatuma’s sensitivity to what’s going on around her and by her empathy. And from an intercultural perspective, working with her has been a valuable experience,’ says Jantinus. Fatuma: ‘We are both committed to our work for BZ, and the fact that we are so different in so many respects has helped us get even further.’ Fatuma noticed how much more confident she felt at work. ‘Contact was intensive at the beginning, and after a couple of months we scaled it back.’ Jantinus: ‘She needed less and less help from me.’

Off to a good start

‘I found out how important it is for new colleagues to have efficient onboarding and get acquainted with the subject matter and the organisation,’ says Fatuma. ‘Being able to shadow a colleague makes it easier to get a good picture of your job and the organisation. I found it very helpful to have all the BZ systems explained to me: I learned what information I can find where and how to use the systems. You might be able to work it all out yourself as you go along, but it’s quicker when you do it together.’