Cross-cultural career coaching through the coronavirus crisis

The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on education systems across the world. Our employees are volunteering as virtual mentors to help young jobseekers and well-trained talent struggling to develop their careers as a result of the pandemic.

Many people think of environmental protection or the climate when they think of the term sustainability. Education often takes a back seat. And yet this social component is an equally important building block for building a more sustainable world as it lays the foundation for a successful future for coming generations – be it professionally, economically or socially. The United Nations have long recognised this and have firmly anchored access to high-quality education as Goal 4 in its Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. For good reason, as many people around the world still lack access to schools or universities, particularly in less developed countries.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected education systems worldwide

The pandemic only serves to exacerbate the problem. Almost 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries were and, in some cases, still are affected. 94 percent of students were temporarily unable to attend their schools or educational institutions. In low-income countries, almost the entire population has been excluded from learning institutions.

The crisis has hit young people’s job prospects particularly hard

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), more than one in six young people have stopped working since the onset of the pandemic while those who remain employed have seen their working hours cut by 23 percent. The disruptive effects of the Covid-19 outbreak have also impacted higher education as 13 percent of students had their graduations delayed and students worldwide started their university courses this autumn with almost no actual contact with teachers and other students.

Deutsche Bank promotes access to education

Our Born to Be youth projects help young people to develop their potential and facilitate access to educational and employment opportunities. “To help alleviate the situation, and in times of increased social distancing, Deutsche Bank has adapted many long-standing corporate social responsibility projects. Mentoring and coaching programmes were moved online, and eLearning modules replaced classes that would otherwise take place in person”, says Lareena Hilton, Global Head of Brand Communications & CSR at Deutsche Bank. “Our Plus You volunteering and giving community shifted its focus away from hands-on and group volunteering toward virtual digital engagement approaches that enable employees to continue to make a positive impact as (remote) volunteers.”

One example is our new global mentoring initiative in cooperation with our long-standing partner Volunteer Vision that connects Deutsche Bank employees with jobseekers and students across geographical and cultural borders. Especially in less developed countries, limited access to local support and counselling services often hinders even the most well educated young people’s career prospects.

The pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities in the labour market and made it even more difficult for those who already faced social, political or geographical barriers to find employment. The new mentoring platform offers one tool which can help lower those hurdles.

This crisis has hit the heart of our founding motivation. We built our online mentoring software to connect people in meaningful, digital relationships – regardless of where they are located or where they are from. Now more than ever, we want to use our software and expertise to demonstrate solidarity and create unity.”

Julia Winkler, Co-Founder of Volunteer Vision

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Since the start of the initiative at the end of June 2020, more than 200 Deutsche Bank employees from eleven countries have already signed up to help young people start their careers or on their way through their studies. Joshua Becker is one of the volunteers. He has shared his experience and knowledge with Diaa Alyasin from Beirut, who has worked in the Syrian financial services sector for more than ten years. In these interviews, both talk about what makes a good relationship between a mentor and a mentee – and how successful coaching can work online over thousands of kilometres.

  • Feeling the effects of the Corona crisis first-hand

    After completing his bachelor’s degree in business administration, Diaa Alyasin spent more than ten years working in banking and microfinance in his home country of Syria. Two years ago, he moved to Lebanon, where he works as a financial journalist with a focus on Syria. In this interview, he explains why the pandemic has hit Lebanon particularly hard and tells us how he has benefited from taking part in the mentorship programme.


    Why did you decide to join the e-mentoring programme run by Volunteer Vision and Deutsche Bank?

    I realised that I needed to contact international professionals to get advice and learn from their experiences about how to face challenges in the working environment – not only because of the pandemic, but also in light of how fast the labour market is changing. I made a number of attempts but only managed to get a few personal opinions. But then, Talent Beyond Boundaries, an organisation that works to open skilled migration pathways for refugees, offered me the chance to take part in e-mentoring sessions with international professionals, in a programme organized by Volunteer Vision. I was really surprised and very happy when Volunteer Vision confirmed that these sessions will be run with an expert at Deutsche Bank.

    How would you describe your relationship to Joshua, your mentor?

    We managed to create a professional and flexible relationship during the sessions, which was, in my opinion, the cornerstone of our success. The fact that both of us have a solid background in the banking sector has enriched our sessions, especially as we are working in different economies in Lebanon, Syria and Germany. Joshua is a great listener, humble, and direct and that is what made his questions and comments invaluable. His experience and leadership were clearly reflected in the sessions and drove a lot of the discussion.

    What was the online mentoring like?

    I think the online mentoring created the right space for coaching and I found it to be as realistic as if we were face to face. We could schedule our sessions flexibly and at our convenience. At the same time, the sessions had a positive impact as they were both relevant and useful. Of course, the chance to meet a global professional was invaluable.

    What are the specific challenges and/or opportunities of coaching via online platforms?

    Basically, online coaching paves the way for participants to explore diverse opinions and experiences. It may also confirm their skills and strengthen their confidence. At the same time, technological infrastructure and time management are examples of challenges that people may face. I struggled with power cuts and internet outages in addition to the restrictions on payment channels. That being said, my confidence in my skills and ability to compete for international positions has increased significantly.

    How did Joshua and the mentoring programme help you? What useful advice did you receive?

    Joshua succeeded in highlighting my strengths and showed me how my diverse experience could open up more opportunities in the future. We talked about several topics, including job interviews and his advice was very useful. He recommended I highlight skills I already have, which am currently not promoting very well, and he also explained how to handle the pressure during an interview.

    Is there something special you will remember?

    Since leaving my home country two years ago, a number of things have pushed me off course. The mentoring sessions have increased my motivation again and reminded me of my skills and goals. And after more than ten years’ experience in financial services in developing countries, which are also under conflict, I will remember that there is always a chance for people like me who have provided these services in a challenging environment. Joshua clarified that these kind of experience and skills are necessary nowadays, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, and I should be grateful I have them.

    How is the pandemic impacting your life and your future plans?

    The impact of the pandemic here in Lebanon could be one of the worst scenarios globally, especially given that Covid-19 is spreading at a time when the country is in a historic economic crisis and the security situation is very risky. Fortunately, I am familiar with working remotely since I arrived here in 2018. But my future plans have been disrupted. For example, advanced negotiations with a leading consulting company in Australia have been deferred indefinitely and another offer is on hold.

    What did you do after completing the programme?

    Since banking is my core passion, I have rebuilt my profile as discussed in the mentoring sessions and started to send a couple of speculative applications to international banks. On top of that, I am currently focusing on improving other skills that will increase my chances. I am very optimistic and hope to reap the benefits soon.

  • "A good mentor is always happy to share their knowledge"

    Joshua Becker is 26 years old and lives and works in Frankfurt, Germany. He has been working at Deutsche Bank for seven years and has a Bachelor in Economics and a Master in International Management. When he’s not working or volunteering, Joshua enjoys to spend time on his startup "KittyPits" that develops and sells a modular type of cat furniture made of cardboard boxes.

    What motivated you to get involved as a mentor in the programme run by Volunteer Vision and Deutsche Bank?

    I have always enjoyed volunteering. When I was a student I helped out at a food bank and during the last seven years, together with colleagues from Deutsche Bank, I have helped to organise numerous team challenges as part of social projects. We supported a vocational training and integration centre, created an intercultural community garden, and cooked with residents in the Frankfurt-based multi-generation house. The Covid-19 pandemic put a stop to this, so when I came across Volunteer Vision and the new online mentoring programme supported by Deutsche Bank, I signed up. The Volunteer Vision programme allowed me to meet someone from a country I have never visited and learn more about his situation. It was a great opportunity to share experiences in a two-way stream of learning. The additional benefit is that the programme helps us to work and communicate in an international organisation where we have colleagues from diverse cultures. This helps us to learn how to spot unconscious biases we may have.

    What makes a good mentor?

    From my point of view, these are two things – personal attitude and individual skills. As a mentor, you make a conscious decision to commit time to your mentee. You should have a real interest in them and also radiate and pass on your enthusiasm. It is also important to be willing to share your own knowledge and to be open to new perspectives – after all, both sides can learn a lot from each other. Empathy and genuine intercultural openness are also crucial. On the other hand, you should also have the necessary qualifications, of course – and by that I do not just mean many years of study or professional experience. Rather, it is important to have a good understanding of the basic rules of mentoring beforehand and to prepare session content well. In the session itself, you should be able to explain the topics in a way that is easy to understand and give feedback that specifically relates to the mentee's situation.

    Have you ever been a mentee?

    Yes, I was a mentee in an internal programme at Deutsche Bank. Unfortunately, the experience wasn't as good as I had hoped. The main reason for this was that my mentor wasn’t really interested and considered it to be a duty. In some ways, I still feel like a mentee as I believe mentoring can take place any time. Three experienced managers at Deutsche Bank with whom I worked in my previous role still give me advice on my personal development, leadership or tips for dealing with challenging situations.

    What are the specific challenges and/or opportunities of coaching via an online platform?

    Video technology makes a lot possible but, in my view, it still cannot replace personal contact with people. So, in order to forge a real bond with your counterpart, it is important to fully engage with them and to be attentive. On the other hand, online mentoring offers two advantages – flexibility and internationality. The format enables even more people to take part as you are not bound by time or place and people with tight schedules also have the chance to get involved. You can also interact with people from all over the world and form mentoring pairs that are best suited to the particular situation.

    How would you describe your relationship with your mentee, Diaa?

    Diaa and I had a very trusting relationship from the very start. Neither of us felt it was an obligation to join our weekly sessions and we both really looked forward to them. Both of us were aware of what we learned from each other and really thankful for it. Over the space of about two months, a virtual friendship has developed, and we have kept in touch.

    What did you get out of the mentoring experience?

    First of all, I realised that the problems we face in the Western world are nothing compared with what Diaa has to deal with. He showed me how to stay happy and focused on your personal fulfilment despite all the problems around you. Moreover, I realise how good my own life is here in Germany – something most people take for granted. Diaa had to leave his home country just to be safe and work in a job he likes to without worries. This experience will always keep me grounded, no matter what happens. Beside this, I also got some really interesting insights into the financial sector and its history in Syria and Lebanon.

    Is there something particular you will remember?

    August 4, 2020 – the day Diaa and I had scheduled our 5th session. I was on the video call and wondering why Diaa hadn’t joined. He was always very reliable, and he hadn’t cancelled the session. Then he sent me the news I hadn’t yet heard, it was the day of the big explosion in Beirut, where Diaa lives. He also sent me some pictures of his apartment. All the windows were broken. Although we hadn’t met in person, I was so worried about him and his family and truly felt for them. Luckily, they weren’t hurt. Despite this shock, Diaa was already keen to schedule the next session and was asking what he needed to prepare for it, which showed his incredible commitment and will to move on with his career. I have never met anyone like Diaa.

    What advice do you have for future mentoring tandems?

    My most important advice for all mentoring tandems is to take enough time in the first session to really get to know each other. And by that, I mean more than just the professional side of each other and your resumés. As this is not a face-to face session, it is crucial to learn something about the motivation, inspiration and feelings of your mentoring partner. I strongly recommend setting clear goals and priorities, which you reflect on regularly so that both partners can take away everything they hoped for from the programme. And last but not least, have courage. Have the courage to just try it out and join. Anyone can take part in mentoring and you will see how much you gain from it and how much joy it brings.

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