Entrepreneur and Philanthropist Michael Tobin explains why he’s volunteering with The Diana Award’s Mentoring Programme this year

13 February 2018

I’m a huge fan of The Diana Award and everything it stands for, supporting young people in all areas of development.

It is The Diana Award’s belief that young people have the power to change the world for the better. With anti-bullying and mentoring initiatives, along with an awards system of recognition in place and expanding, what better organisation to turn to to nurture the talents and needs of youngsters today?

And this is why I am supporting the Mentoring Program, which pairs disengaged youngsters with volunteer mentors.

This scheme provides youngsters with an insight and experience of the world of work, coupled with vital career-skills training, while placing an emphasis on social action around issues affecting local communities.


“I can confidently say I wouldn’t be where I am today if it hadn’t been for many influential people guiding me”

This approach seeks to instill a sense of active citizenship in its mentees. Which is exactly what we should be looking for in our future generations – engaged and connected youngsters!

The Diana Award Mentoring Programme develops characterful and resilient youngsters with a view to improving their social-mobility and readiness for employment. Mentoring provides an amazing opportunity for both the mentor and the mentee to establish a long-term relationship on a grounding of trust, respect and encouragement.

This is a model I have benefitted from myself many times in the past.

I can confidently say I wouldn’t be where I am today if it hadn’t been for many influential people guiding me in my past.

I’ll start with my mother…

Without doubt, a supportive parent can be the most powerful of mentors at times.

My mother was an incredible woman, surviving – and finally escaping – an abusive relationship with my father. He was not a good man… enough said really.

She escaped with me and my siblings and took us to Zimbabwe, which was then known as Rhodesia. Soon after we arrived, the country was in turmoil during the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) and we were forced to flee back home to the UK, literally dodging petrol bombs and bullets along the way.

We sought shelter in a squat in Bermondsey and while my mother went out to earn a living to support us, we went from squat to squat restoring old pianos and selling them on the Old Kent Road for a profit.

Without a doubt, my resilient nature and business-focused mind was down to the influence of my mother. Those formative days, as the youngest member of a family, seeking shelter and a source of income built the foundation for who I am today.

As we settled back into life in the UK, our circumstances – and my education and career – went from strength to strength. I owe a lot to my mother for integrating us back into the society we had escaped not long before.

Many years on from that, I was mentored by a man so talented and natural in sales that he totally changed my approach and beliefs, in a role I was sure I was already perfectly capable of! He showed me the best and most positive way to handle negativity when selling.

(Fun fact for you, he also happened to be Bryan Adams’ cousin! But I digress…)

He taught me that if I were, for example, a vacuum cleaner salesman, and I had 100 doors to knock on to sell my product, I may call at 99 doors and get a “no thank you” at each door before I call at that 100th door and make a sale!

The moral is, every “no” you get while selling is just that one step closer to achieving a “yes”! So, when you turn the thinking on its head like that, it’s a far more positive outlook. Carry that positivity into your sales pitch and it will shine through like a beacon!

Now, with the benefit of years of experience in the businesses world – everything from small organisations, huge corporations and latterly as a one-man operation juggling numerous NED positions, charitable obligations and personal commitments – I feel very honoured to be able to pass on my wisdom to help youngsters feel stable on their feet and scale those mountains to success in the workplace.

I have also learnt a huge amount personally over the years, having been in and out of relationships and watching my three children grow into the fine young people they are today. They inspire me daily. I strongly believe that we have to be happy and content in our personal lives in order for our professional lives to run smoothly and this is a message that a good mentor will deliver.

The success lies in developing a well-rounded character, receptive to the opportunities life presents to us and engaging in the world around us.

This quote from one of the greatest leaders of our time would be applicable to the mentor/mentee journey and it’s one that I like to refer back to regularly.

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
Barack Obama

I wish all Diana Award mentors and their mentees the most incredible and successful experience.

What you are doing together is something very special and potentially life-changing. Enjoy the journey!

Just 18 hours of your time can transform a young person's life

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