The idea of women helping women in their careers was the inspiration behind the establishment of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women, set up in Switzerland 80 years ago. The local chapter, the Hong Kong Association of Business and Professional Women, launched in 1979, has attracted working women from all professions in the territory. Like many such organisations, the association aims to enhance professional excellence among members through conferences, workshops and seminars, development activities and networking events. The latest item on the agenda is a mentoring programme, scheduled for next year. 'Mentoring programmes are fast growing in popularity among corporations,' said Cecilia Lui, mentoring programme chairperson of the association. 'Companies and organisations see the value and cost-effectiveness of staff development initiatives. The programme coincides with our 2004 theme, which is empowering women through creative partnership.' The response to the programme has been encouraging. 'Several corporate sponsors have offered advice and financial support to help get it started,' said Ms Lui. Sponsors include Exxon Mobil, Right Management Consultants, Seashell Publishers (Australia), and B&W - Far East Publicity. Participants can expect to gain insights into their careers and the working world by interacting with experienced professionals, and it is hoped the 'learners' will draw inspiration from their mentors, and learn from their success stories (or experiences of failures). In the meantime, the programmes will give the mentors a chance to enhance their leadership and communication skills and gain an understanding of the mindset of young professionals. The association will be accepting applications for the mentoring programme over the next few weeks. An introductory session for participants to meet mentors will be held shortly, and a committee will aim to match participants and mentors, taking into consideration factors such as professional background, age, language skills, and cultural and personal interests. 'The mentors are members of our organisation, and they are committed to sharing their knowledge and experience. They have a strong desire to contribute and help,' Ms Lui said. The orientation session will be held in February, and will be followed by monthly informal gatherings and professional development workshops over the year. Many people associate mentoring programmes with universities and large corporations, when in fact a number of small-scale organisations also focus on such staff development programmes. One such organisation is Golin/Harris International. The public relations specialist firm launched its first mentoring programme early this year. 'The recent times have been tough for business, especially in the service industry, where expectations are high, deadlines are tight and resources are limited,' said Hew Chow-tow, the firm's managing director. 'This has resulted in a high level of stress for executives, and for their families. A mentoring programme is a form of support that goes beyond professional training. We believe it is helpful to staff.' The main aim of the programme is to groom and develop young professionals at the firm, an effort the company sees as benefiting the industry as a whole. The firm, which has a staff of 30, formed 11 pairs for the programme. A mid-point evaluation was held six months into the exercise. 'We have had positive feedback from our staff. The only change we will make is to regroup some of the mentor-protege pairs. We plan to expand the programme to include the whole office in the coming year.' The mentoring programme is a learning experience for all concerned. Programme leaders discover the importance of flexibility, and all participants realise that appropriate pairing and person-to-person 'chemistry' are essential to the programme's success. Julie Matthews, chief executive of Seashell Publishers, one of the programme sponsors, said good mentors had played a key role in her career. She said she had seen the beneficial impact of the mentoring experience on others. 'I give the [association's] programme my full support,' Ms Matthews said. 'I have always admired Hong Kong women. They are constantly striving to be better. They are smart and intelligent, and have a thirst for knowledge. 'I believe women can pick up the mentoring programme and take it further. My goal is to see women moving forward.'