This is what happened when we appointed three young people to our board

10 August 2017 -

Tom LasonMany organisations talk about engaging with young people, but few would take the deliberate step of appointing three young people to their board. As it turns out, the effects have been remarkable

Guest blogger Thomas Lawson CCMI

Creating diversity on a board is not always easy. It can be a challenging and frustrating process and it can feel as if there are roadblocks every step of the way. But if you stick with it you will see the difference a diverse range of minds have on the quality of your governance.

When I joined Leap Confronting Conflict in 2010 one of the things that struck me was that our board was not representative of the people with whom we worked. Leap provides conflict management training to young people who have often grown up in care, are caught up in the criminal justice system, are not in mainstream education, or are at risk of gang activity.

We are proud champions of young people and believe in their potential, yet we had no youth voices contributing to strategic discussions. We needed to set our own example and live up to our own values.

It goes without saying that, back in 2010, there was a lot of work to be done behind the scenes before diversity could improve.

As a new CEO I focused on building a strong relationship with our chair and trustees. We also worked with three young people to understand together how we could support them to support us.

At Leap I am constantly reminded about how much young people have to teach us, and this extends to our board. We learned five main things:

  1. They needed to have the same status, job description and recruitment as other trustees

  2. We introduced buddies for all new board members, not just young trustees, to help them participate fully and more quickly

  3. We worked with the young people to make the board papers accessible and, as a result, all trustees asked better questions and made better comments

  4. We needed to create extra space for them to contribute at meetings and within Leap

  5. As a result of the improved mix of age, race and gender on our board, discussions about diversity are much more intelligent and insightful

Since they joined us, our young trustees have had a real impact. Their lived experiences mean that we can be confident our 2017-2019 strategy is developed with young people at its heart.

They challenged us to review our vision and broaden our ambitions from solely providing training to considering the whole journey experienced by the young people coming to us. We have introduced one-to-one sessions before our programmes, and have recruited a progression routes worker to create a structured route for young people after they complete our training.   

The presence of young trustees on the board sends a powerful message to all our young people. It shows that we listen to them, we learn from them and, most importantly, we believe in them.

Young trustee Peter Olawaye summed it up: “One of the things that makes Leap special is that we really mean it when we say that young people affect decision making.”

However, having a truly diverse board is about more than just age and lived experiences. We have widely addressed diversity across our board and target trustee recruitment more effectively.

As a result, we have improved diversity not only of age, but race, gender, class and professional background, and our board now reflects our strategic priorities.

For example, we work with young people and adults in the criminal justice sector. One board member is a Prison Governor and provides valuable insight and guidance for our work in this area. This breadth of experience deeply enriches our discussions and makes our conclusions more robust.

In 2016 we were proud to win the Board Diversity and Inclusion Award at the Charity Governance Awards. We’ve gone from very limited diversity among our trustees, to a high performing board with a minimum of three places for young trustees who have been through our programme and know what it’s like to be a young person involved with Leap.

Winning the award, it felt like we had finally arrived at our destination after a long journey. The road we’ve travelled has been an adventure for all of us and has required both sides to be open to learning from each other.

Improving our board’s diversity is a challenge I’ve been proud to be part of. There have been many challenges but between us we’ve made it through, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

Who are our trustees?

Mark Spelman, Chair

Mark is responsible for the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) ‘Future of the Internet Initiative’.

Rachel Sandby-Thomas, Vice Chair

Rachel is the Registrar at Warwick University and was previously shadow CEO of the UK Government’s Institute for Apprenticeships.

David Causer, Treasurer

David is a chartered accountant and a member of the Securities Institute.

Aaron Jean-Baptiste, Young Trustee

Aaron went through Leap’s programme and after graduating continued studying with Leap before beginning an internship at Old Mutual Global Investors. He now works there full time and continues to use many of the techniques he learnt with Leap today.

Chantal Chang, Young Trustee

After graduating from Leap’s programme, Chantal became a Leap young trainer before joining the Board as a young trustee in 2014. She is a member of the impact sub-committee, continues to work as a trainer and works full time to fund herself through her degree in youth work.

Peter Olawaye, Young Trustee

After benefitting from Leap’s programmes and a successful period as Leap’s social media intern in 2012, Peter founded Aiming Skywards, a social enterprise focussed on reducing youth offending. He is currently working at the EY Foundation as the Our Future programme lead, supporting young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to make the transition into the labour market.

Anna Hermann

Anna is the Head of Education at Clean Break, a theatre company working with women affected by the criminal justice system, and has been working with the field of social change for twenty years.

Deborah O’Neill

Deborah is a partner with Oliver Wyman Labs focussing on financial services. Her particular interests lie in the areas of insight and reporting, risk management and customer centricity.

Derek Bardowell

Derek is the Senior Head of UK Portfolio at the Big Lottery Fund. He began his career as a music and sports journalist before moving to the social sector where he has worked at organisations including the Stephen Lawrence Trust, Esmeé Fairbairn Foundation and Laureus Sport for Good.

Matt Bell

Matt joined the Berkeley Group in 2011 and advises the main board on government relations, corporate communications, and he helps lead the Berkeley Foundation.

Mike Conradi

Mike is a partner at law firm DLA Piper. His passion for peer-led youth work arises from his years spent working as a leader in a Jewish youth movement.

Theresa Clarke

Theresa is a Prison Group Director with Her Majesties Prison and Probation Service, and has worked for the Prison Service since 1990.

Thomas Lawson is chief executive of Leap Confronting Conflict and a Chartered Companion at the CMI