Saint-Denis, France

Projet Proxité: Professional Mentoring for Youth


May 1, 2014

Mentoring disadvantaged youth provides tailor-made support and a path to employability

Proxite200x130They really never had any reason to meet, given their different life experiences and trajectories. Yet Driss and Nicolas, Tarik and Valérie, Kilani and Vanessa were brought together by Projet Proxité which offers educational support and career advice to young people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

Proxité pairs students with professionals acting as volunteer mentors, who focus on the particular needs of the young person. This can range from straightforward homework support or advice around interviews and resume writing, to building the students’ confidence or helping them figure out what career they wish to pursue.

Social and geographical boundaries

The distance from Saint-Denis to Paris may be short but the challenges faced by the young people of les banlieues défavorisées can make for a long journey out of poverty.

The region with the largest proportion of immigrants in France is the Île-de-France (Greater Paris), where 40% of immigrants live. According to INSEE, French National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies, responsible for the production and analysis of official statistics in France, about 35% of the urban region’s 4 million people are either immigrant (17%) or born to at least one immigrant parent (18%) in 2006.  Within this region, Saint-Denis is a commune in Paris’ northern suburbs (banlieues). Here up to 56.7% of young people under 18 are immigrants, including 38% of African origin. Islam is the main religion.

Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds often struggle in the school system by the time they reach the age of 15. These challenges emerge from a variety of factors, including poor career advice leading to lowered aspirations and lack of support structures both at school and at home to allow for good educational achievement.


Proxité was founded by a lawyer and a social worker who realized that just a small amount of additional support every week could go a long way in improving young people’s achievement in school. It started small, with a group of ten volunteers who all wished to help young people in Saint-Denis finish secondary school. A few years later, the project developed a new mentoring program for older pupils,  to facilitate their access to the labour market.

Ten years later, it is a flourishing project. Over 250 mentors and mentees are active in four different locations around greater Paris. Students receive the advice they need, which helps build their confidence and increases their chances of entering the labour market. It also gives mentors an opportunity for civic engagement and the development of long-lasting relationships between people whose paths were unlikely to cross otherwise.  Proxité builds cohesion and solidarity across social and geographical boundaries.

For secondary school students, Proxité offers mentoring primarily based on homework support. The mentor and the young person meet around 2 hours every week in the local branch of the organization and focus on the particular challenges faced by the student. For older students, Proxité offers mentoring that takes place in the mentor’s workplace and focuses on career choice and labour market inclusion.

Since it was set up Proxité has engaged with 900 young people in school or workplace mentoring schemes and has branches in Saint-Denis, Nanterre and Noisy-Le-Grand, three towns bordering Paris that include a significant number of residents from disadvantaged background. It organizes regular activities, including a weekend study session every year for school children, and visits to different companies for older students.


Proxité’s young people have better results in school (in 2013, 20 of 22 youth completed their bachelor’s degree) and have improved their access to the job market.

Mentors take great pride in watching their mentees progress and see the concrete results of their relationship when a young person progresses to the next school year or finds a job.

“I am so proud to be able to say I contributed to building someone’s future; it has been an invaluable experience,” says Mohammed, mentor to Steeve.

The mentoring relationship benefits both mentor and mentee and beyond the one-to-one relationship that it creates,  also leads to a wider sense of community cohesion.

Key to Proxité’s success is its partnerships from public, private and third sector organizations. It works in close partnership with the city councils of Saint-Denis, Nanterre and Noisy-le-Grand as well as municipal structures, such as the “Mission Locale”, a local public organization that supports labour market inclusion for young people between ages 16 and 25. It has also developed strong partnerships with many companies, which provide financial support but also, crucially, encourage their employees to act as mentors to young people.

In 2011, Proxité received an award for solidarity by the Feuilhade Foundation.

Making it Work for You:

  • Local implantation particularly important in this case, finding an area and anchoring the project firmly in that area, working with local schools, businesses and municipal actors to make the project a truly local initiative.
  • Many employees today want to engage in some form of philanthropic activity or civic engagement; coming to them and offering them the possibility of being mentors is appealing: it’s concrete and straightforward.
  • For mentor buy-in, stress how mentoring benefits both mentees and mentors.  Successful mentoring programs create mutually beneficial relationships – between mentors and the mentees, between employers and their employees and between service organizations and their clients.
  • Find private companies that want to increase civic engagement to build strong partnerships and engage their staff in the project.

For this Good Idea contact:

5 rue Jean Jaurès
Saint-Denis , France,
01 48 20 51 78

Témoignages sur le parrainage : association Proxité

Témoignages sur le parrainage : association... by f100002275723839