LEx on UK based INGO boards

Whilst the drivers for having trustees with lived experience of the cause on the board hold true (better conversations and decisions), the context of a UK based charity that operates in different countries makes the challenge more complex.

Alison Marshall is Director of Sense International, an international charity supporting people with deafblindness in eight countries across the globe. Alison alerted us to the different dimensions and dilemmas that need to be taken into account when thinking about trustees with lived experience and INGO (international non-government organisation) boards.

Working with Alison we have started to sketch out some of the issues and we have signposted where they intersect with other challenges facing the INGO sector. We would welcome contributions to build on this: get involved and share your views, send us examples of work you are doing to address the dilemmas, share your learning, or let us know about dilemmas we haven’t even surfaced yet!

Find out more about overcoming the barriers to involving those with lived experience on nonprofit boards.

What lived experiences do we need on the board of a UK based INGO?

Some of the dilemmas

  • INGOs usually operate in a number of very different countries where people can have very different experiences; where do we start (and stop)? How many trustees from different countries would be appropriate? Does it matter?
  • Do we seek people from country offices or national boards? Or from national NGOs and local partners? Local communities? People directly supported? Does it matter?
  • There will be different power dynamics: does it matter?
  • Would we likely end up with people who are already privileged (speak English; have education; have taken up their power, use Zoom etc.)? If not, how do we enable participation? Does it matter?

Related challenges that intersect

  • More broadly, taking into account the voice of local communities, and considering whose voice, eg. men/women, advantaged/ disadvantaged etc.
  • Tackling the need to find representative views – or determine what research would be needed to begin to ‘represent’ adequately. And after all, the other trustees don’t ‘represent’ any constituency.
  • How can this be done in a cost-effective, carbon neutral and appropriate way (e.g. using more virtual meetings)? But how do you do this for, for example, the deaf/blind people you might want to engage with?
  • A linked challenge – how can this be done so that the engagement does not appear patronising or merely symbolic and tokenistic.
  • Is there a place to use supporters, accompaniers, or co-optees who could act as proxies or surrogates for, eg. deaf/blind board members.

How do we adapt ourselves to ensure inclusion of people with these lived experiences?

(that power is shared; that we are not just ‘extracting’; that everyone has an equal sense of belonging)

Some of the dilemmas

  • UK board language is English – this may be someone’s 2nd or 3rd language and will affect how they take part and could disadvantage people even if we use interpreters and support advance preparation ahead of meetings.
  • Our language is packed with words that reinforce ‘power over’ and ‘done to’ e.g. empowerment; give voice; capacity-build; beneficiary etc.
  • How to make board papers accessible, so as not to disadvantage people?
  • How do we encourage ‘conscious inclusion’ (behavioural, practical, structural)?
  • In-person versus virtual meetings – if UK based board members are in the room in-person, how does this disadvantage anyone who has to join virtually?
  • How can we create a safe space?
  • Do we pay for people’s time? Would it be right to expect a community member to volunteer in the same way as we expect this of UK trustees but not ‘other’ those who need to claim expenses?
  • We have a lot to learn – how can we open up our minds, listen and learn?
  • How can we address the sticky topic of ‘representation’; trustees with lived experience aren’t representatives in the formal sense, but we often see them as this; how can we stop ourselves?
  • Where do we get all the resources from to fund the above?

Related challenges that intersect

  • The wider movement to shift power from the ‘global north’; to ‘decolonise international development’
  • Even ‘decolonisation’ is the agenda of the global north – of those with power.
  • How does the decolonisation agenda and delegation of levels of accountability fit with UK governance regulations and the increasing expectation that UK charity board members can be held responsible for a range of issues (financial, safeguarding, etc)?
  • Inevitably, staff in the UK who support the UK based trustee board have to filter and summarise information to create concise board papers. So, what is the agenda of the staff - their bias in terms of what information is presented and how?
  • Being open to learn is a great opportunity for UK based trustees to really understand the international landscape in which they operate, building understanding of key environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues (relating to sustainability) in country offices can feed into an INGO's values and strategy. Trustees with lived experience of these can add to what the INGO may be seeking to address; for example, issues of poverty and human rights cut across environment and social categories of ESG; there is a direct link between climate change and floods, deforestation, displaced communities, poor health and education, and so on.

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