WWF’s mentoring programme has increased its global reach, is boosting mentees’ confidence and skill-building, and is developing mentors’ leadership skills. David Firman reports


As one of the world’s leading conservation organisations, established more than 60 years ago, non-profit organisation WWF works in nearly 100 countries, collaborating with people around the world to develop and deliver innovative solutions that protect communities, wildlife, and the places in which they live. 

WWF’s values of courage, integrity, respect and collaboration are central to its successful approach. Its global mentoring programme offers an opportunity to apply these values in action, and is representative of how it builds capacity.

As Francesca Romana Marcucci, head of people and culture development, WWF International, says : “Mentoring is not only a specific WWF programme, but it’s a philosophy around the way we do capacity building in the organisation. It is an ongoing approach that we adopted a long time ago, in order to promote cross-functional and cross-regional support among staff members, enhancing innovative ways of learning and making peers to peers support a winning card of our people development strategy.”

Marcucci explains that the mentoring “goes hand in hand with the internal coaching programmes and it’s with this clear objective in mind that we also introduced the possibility of building coaching and mentoring relationships as a follow-up to our virtual Lead programme.” 

LEAD (Leadership Exploration and Development) is a flagship programme which aims to develop personal, team and community leadership while encouraging participants to explore their brand of leadership that makes a difference in the world. Since last year, WWF has been working on the revamp of the programme to better equip people managers and team leaders with the knowledge and tools to lead effectively through the new work environment context which features hybrid work, for example.

In addition, WWF continues to mobilise support from its alumni for further know-how and knowledge transfer within its global network.

WWF has adopted mentoring as a key tool to spread experiences across regional and topical boundaries, and encourage professional and personal development. Regardless of location, mentees say that mentoring assisted them with work-related challenges, built skills on the job and made them more confident, and mentors find taking part to be motivating and that doing so has developed their leadership skills. Unsurprisingly, the programme has become very popular, growing year after year. It saw close to 1,000 participants between 2018 and 2022.

Helma Brandlmaier, knowledge manager, WWF International, one of the co-ordinators of the programme since its inception says:

“We often get word of mouth referrals and we have too much demand – more than we can meet, so this is actually our current challenge.”

Since its inception with a pilot in 2016 and full roll-out, WWF’s mentoring programme has been supported by Coach Mentoring managing director Lis Merrick and colleagues. Merrick has supported WWF since 2007 across various coaching and mentoring projects, including this Mentoring for Practices programme since 2018 (and its previous pilot). The consultancy continues to support the programme including with briefings (see further information), coaching, and has been supporting the WWF 2023 mentoring cohort. “This programme is an absolutely delight to be part of. It is the most energised and engaged programme I have ever worked on in my whole career,” says Merrick.



WWF’s mentoring programme has achieved proven benefits in the past four years with minimal funds and staff time (and indeed participant time). Brandlmaier says:

“Mentoring is a great way to experience an exciting global network in action. Our deliberate cross-regional matches encourage staff to think out of the box and adapt learnings from other regions or teams. Cross-cultural awareness is deepened – a must-have skill in a global organisation.” 

Benefits of mentoring include: 

  • Improves productivity, builds better problem-solving and decision-making skills
  • Transfers knowledge between staff
  • Tailored learning – supports learning on the job
  • Deepens the ability for reflection, as well as strategic and innovative thinking
  • Supports staff in realising potential
  • Builds leadership skills
  • Improves confidence and motivation
  • Helps WWF culture and values come alive
  • Builds friendships and connections across regions, functions and boundaries ‘allowing for sharing and growing’, experiencing an exciting global network in action.


In 2022, 90 mentees in 41 countries including 28.6% from Africa, 27.5% from Asia Pacific, 18.7% from Europe and 6.6% from South Africa, participated. Below is some of the feedback:

  • 80% said it made them more confident
  • 78% said it assisted them with work-related challenges
  • 72% said it was good personal development
  • 68% said it motivated them
  • 65% said it helped them to be more strategic
  • 59%  said they feel more part of a global network
  • 51%  said they improved some of their work with the help of the mentor


Global reach

Given the global nature of WWF’s work and workforce, it has been important that the mentoring programme is international. During 2022, the WWF global mentoring programme saw an increasing number of staff joining the programme from Africa, Asia and South/Middle America. Some 60% of mentees and nearly 30% of mentors came from the Global South. 

Involving the Global South is key for knowledge transfer in a global organisation. All staff have important learning to offer and the programme encourages proactive sharing of expertise which helps in learning on the job and achieving conservation goals.

WWF gives special attention to good matching with the help of its mentoring ambassadors who continue to bring benefits associated with greater diversity. Many mentees, including from the Global South, gain confidence in the programme and continue to grow their leadership as mentors.


The 2022 cohorts (90 mentees and 90 mentors) saw an increasing number of South to South and South to North exchanges and a high number of women joining the programme:

  • 13 South to South matches: For example, staff from Africa mentoring someone from Latin America or South East Asia, or the other way around.
    Special value: Supports strategic insights and adaptations for other contexts;  strengthens South to South collaboration, broadens horizons, and encourages innovative conservation approaches.
  • 6 South to North matches: For example, staff from Africa, Latin America or South East Asia mentoring someone from North America or Europe.
    Special value: Deepens the understanding of local contexts and realities of working with communities/ in projects / with stakeholders; helps to challenge assumptions and sharpens strategic thinking and target orientation.
  • 17 North to South matches: For example, staff from the Global North mentoring someone from the Global South.
    Special value: Continues to strengthen global networks and encourages knowledge transfer.
  • Even gender balance: WWF’s mentoring programme empowers women. The 2022 cohorts saw 50% female participants, both as mentees and mentors.


Matching techniques

Brandlmaier explains the process for matching:

“We have a quite detailed application form in which mentees and mentors list their first, second and third priority for a mentoring engagement. In addition, we get them both to make a pitch to mentee and mentor respectively.

“The mentoring ambassadors who are knowledgeable on the communities make a pre-selection of possible matches via the priorities and then show the potential mentor and mentee the profile (particularly the pitch) for their interest. If both are interested we send them on an exploration call to test rapport, language and also overlap of interest and skills. If that is successful it’s a match.”

Applicants are asked to express their preference language-wise. Mentees are asked to indicate their level of English, and mentors are asked to indicate in which languages they could offer mentoring. A recorded briefing session is offered in French and Spanish, with programme flyers also available in these languages, in addition to English.


Mentors and mentees discuss the 2022 programme:

  • “Having a mentor helped to reaffirm why I do what I do here at WWF. It also made me more confident in my abilities, and less alone with challenges that I face. Having a mentor and learning from their experiences, and being able to share mine in turn, was a very rewarding experience; and moreover it really made me understand the vast extent of our amazing global network.”
    Divya – WWF Singapore


  • “I would like to express my gratitude for providing such a mentoring opportunity for the second time now! It arrived just when I needed it the most – first when I was very new to the organisation and second time when I needed some mentoring in my job.”
    Bhawana Kafley – WWF Bhutan


  • “I have really appreciated my mentorship journey. I started it, almost drowning in my work and failing to get a decent work-life balance. This year of being mentored has offered me insights from a practical perspective on how to better manage my assignments at work, how to delegate a bit more, improve the performance of the projects and collaborate a bit more. I would recommend this mentorship program to anyone in the network who has not undergone it yet.”
    Beauty S. Mbale – WWF Zambia   




Mentoring in global networks and encouraging staff participation from the Global South

  • Make diversity a goal in your programme: Encourage broad staff participation from any region without hierarchy in a confidential setting. Signal that all staff have important experiences to share, in both roles – as mentees and mentors. This builds confidence.
  • Cultural awareness: A great opportunity to experience cross-cultural relationships. Offer briefings or supporting materials on cross-cultural communication and skills (Kent, Kochan, & Green, 2013; Osula & Irvin, 2009).
  • Language: Offer mentoring arrangements in different languages. WWF is piloting mentoring matches in Spanish and French to encourage more staff participation in Africa and South America.
  • Flexibility: Create a framework that is inclusive and flexible from the outset to accommodate work schedules and internet access. This is helpful if employees are out in field work, for example.


Further information

WWF is an independent conservation organisation, with more than 35 million followers and a global network active through local leadership in more than 100 countries. Its mission is to stop the degradation of the planet’s natural environment and to build a future in which people live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. 


About the author

  • David Firman is business development director and a consultant at Coach Mentoring. He is an accredited coach and mentor from the Leeds Business School Postgraduate Certificate in Coaching and Mentoring. Email him for more information at:
  • dave@coachmentoring.co.uk
  • www.coachmentoring.co.uk/


Contact for questions

  • Helma Brandlmaier, Knowledge Manager WWF International, Co-lead of WWF’s Global Mentoring Programme.
  • hbrandlmaier@wwfint.org



  • Kent, A., Kochan, F.,  & Green, A.,  Cultural influences on mentoring programs and relationships: a critical review of research, in International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, 2, 204-217, 2013 
  • Osula, B. & Irvin, S. M., Cultural Awareness in Intercultural Mentoring: A Model for Enhancing Mentoring Relationships, in International Journal of Leadership Studies, 5(1), 2009