Alex Gramatikov is smoothly spoken, suave, persuasive. It is almost hard to believe that, six years ago, the founder of Bulgaria’s fastest-growing youth program was a shy teenager who spent more time playing video games on his own than socializing with other people.
He attributes the transformation in his life to his mentors — a category Alex broadly defines as “people with more experience who nurture the goals of a more inexperienced person or address the problems and challenges that this person encounters.” For Alex, these were friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and serendipitous encounters.
Because mentors were so consequential for his own development, Alex decided to give other people his age a similar opportunity — only he wanted to eliminate the element of chance.
That is how Mentor the Young was born a year and a half ago.
The program recruits people interested in helping others and matches them to individuals in need of life or career guidance or help with a specific business problem. Program beneficiaries, or mentees, are 18- to 25-year-olds with little or no professional experience but with the determination to improve a skill or a personality aspect. Each mentee is matched with a mentor, usually an experienced entrepreneur or mid-career professional in a leadership position at a company interested in making life better for someone else.
Mentors are volunteers, and the program is free of charge for all beneficiaries.
Over three months, mentor and mentee work on goals they set together. These range from helping recent high school graduates write better CVs or focus their academic interests to assisting aspiring entrepreneurs with their first steps in business or with the launch of a new service.
Alex counsels curiosity-led mentees to enter the program with an open mind and set broad goals. He matches them with people with a background in psychology or HR who can help them identify their needs and work on their strengths. Mentees with more distinct goals are paired with people with a proven track record of meeting similar objectives.
The program’s breadth is informed by the diverse needs of people in this age group. In addition to being its most welcoming aspect, this program quality may be why Mentor the Young has grown twelve times in just a year — from 46 participants in the program’s inaugural season in the fall of 2021 to a whopping 538 mentorship enthusiasts in season 3.
Alex’s background in startups and business development has also played a key role in this success. Not only did five years of hands-on sales experience give the program’s founder a keen sense of how growth works, both personal and professional, but it also made him a goal-focused problem-solver who isn’t satisfied with average results. Moreover, through volunteering for various organizations and causes, Alex learned how satisfying it is to do something for others. His time gaming was not misspent either; it developed his analytical skills and ability to think strategically. Moreover, it gave him the digital savvy needed to promote the program and achieve successful matches. In fact, Alex coded the algorithm that determines who will do well with whom. Judging by the algorithm’s performance in seasons 1 and 2 of Mentor the Young, it rarely fails.
Mentor the Young’s success for Alex isn’t about what he’s done right, though. It is measured by the mentees’ triumphs. For some participants, success is performing better at job interviews; for others, overcoming extreme shyness is an accomplishment. At the end of a season, some mentees end up receiving their first professional break, while others start improving lives by launching a social initiative or developing an environment-conscious innovation.
While no two participant journeys are alike, nearly eight out of ten people say they meet their goals through the program. And their journeys do not necessarily end there. The program encourages repeat participation in subsequent seasons so mentees can build on the acquired skills or improve on early successes.
“I believe in the transformational power of mentorship. I have experienced it myself, I have seen it work for several hundred people, and I am about to see it make a difference for another 500,” Alex said on the eve of the third season’s launch at the end of October 2022.
He thinks mentorship could be transformational not just on an individual level, but on the level of society as well.
One of the main reasons people sign up to mentor others is the desire to give back. Another is the feeling of belonging to a community, evidenced by repeat participation and high attendance of the program’s social events.
“Nine out of ten people you ask to be your mentors will say yes. People want to help, they just need an occasion, a context. They will do it without expecting anything in return. Even so, there is always a return,” Alex says. Beyond the short-term benefits for mentees and mentors, there is a bigger gain in the long run — a more cohesive, community-minded society.
Alex learned about the community-building value of such programs through the America for Bulgaria Foundation–supported entrepreneurship-focused ABLE Activator, in which he was a participant two years ago. In fact, Mentor the Young’s social calendar was directly inspired by Activator’s social mixers and other group activities.
Last but not least, it was through Activator that Alex met his most important mentor so far — the person who allowed him to test his limits and helped unlock his leadership potential. It was a key experience in Alex’s life that strengthened his self-belief and told him he really had something valuable to give to others.
That professional relationship also affirmed another one of Alex’s key beliefs — that “you need to get yourself somewhere first before you can do that for others. Only then will your assistance work, at scale and sustainably.”
And if you can’t get there on your own, find the right mentor to guide you on your journey.
The America for Bulgaria Foundation proudly supports Mentor the Young.