Over the past decade, formal youth mentoring programmes have been adopted in many countries but there has been relatively little attention in the mentoring literature to the processes by which mentoring models developed in the USA have become embedded in these new policy environments. Using a conceptual framework from the policy transfer literature (Evans, 2009) which identifies obstacles to the successful transfer of policy models, this paper analyses the processes by which the Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) youth mentoring programme was introduced to and became accepted in Ireland. Firstly, it is argued that that the decisions made by the host organisation, Foroige prior to the introduction of the BBBS programme to Ireland had a critical influence on the degree to which mentoring became established in Ireland and whether or not it would be 'culturally accepted'. In particular, the approach of emulation rather than copying of the original BBBS model was an effective one. Secondly, the mentoring model is seen to fit well with Irish policy relating to children and young people. Thirdly, embedding the BBBS model within an established community based youth organisation helped to overcome any potential cultural issues that may have arisen from 'importing' a model developed in a country with a strong cultural tradition of formal mentoring to one where such a tradition does not exist. Finally, the new policy model was found to be feasible to implement. These four factors helped to ensure that the BBBS programme became successfully established in an Irish policy context. It is argued that the policy transfer literature can enhance our understanding of why formal mentoring models succeed or fail in new policy environments. (C) 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.