My name is Michael Abiodun Olatokun and I am an activist and educator. In all of my work I seek to challenge oppressive power structures and encourage social justice. Since I began my journey ten years ago, I have seen countless young people overcome trying circumstances to deliver positive change in their communities. Many are inspirational full-time champions for the charity sector, plying their trade at non-profit organisations. Some of them have set up socially-minded community groups, using their entrepreneurship to disrupt the social hierarchies that marginalise so many worldwide. However the vast majority give their time for no immediate reward as volunteers, and it is that aspect of civil society that I seek to promote to you today.
The word ‘volunteering’ is likely to invoke memories of charity shops and marathons for most, but I would encourage the reader to think beyond these socially visible forms of volunteering to other kinds. One of the most important, but seldom discussed, ways that we can support charities is by making strategic decisions in their board rooms.
Charities are governed by a board of non-executive directors called trustees. The trustees hold ultimate responsibility for the organisation’s finances, strategy and compliance. Despite the public visibility of chief executives and senior managers, it is the oft-forgotten trustees that make the big calls and hold real power. When push comes to shove and there is a fundamental disagreement between the trustees and staff, the trustee board is prime.
I am fortunate enough to be a trustee of two wonderful organisations. At the Diana Award, I have contributed to the conception and delivery of international awards ceremonies chaired by Princes Harry and William. At the University of Westminster Students’ Union, I will soon be celebrating my second year as chair and have worked with some of the finest minds in the business world to bring projects worth hundreds of thousands of pounds to fruition.
Being a trustee is a unique and powerful opportunity that has provided me with my greatest developmental experiences. Despite this public awareness of trusteeship is non-existent. A 2006 report indicated that just 5% of the British public are aware of this method of assistance for charities. As young black leaders we are excluded from the many benefits of trusteeship; that 5% is incredibly undiverse. Only 8% of trustees in the top 50 charities (ranked by fundraising) were BME in 2014, and only 0.5% of charity trustees were aged 18-24 in 2010.
Get yourself into the boardroom and make a difference. If we take up the benefits afforded by this opportunity, our world will change. My top five reasons for that are:
Our own perspectives will be broadened by wide-ranging and difficult debates with people from different backgrounds.
Making tough decisions that matter in an environment where salary and promotion are not at risk will ensure aspirant young leaders have those abilities when trying to get ahead in the workplace
When trusteeship begins to feature within traditional conceptions of what “excellence” in the black community constitutes, this will normalise political and community collaboration. We will begin to see that money is too often the metric of success and a united, egalitarian and peaceful world is much more important.
Employers will better understand the benefits of trusteeship (and become more likely to let young employees leave early for it) if we trailblaze.
When people with a real stake in a social issue are the advocates for its development, the final solution is better. Look no further than David Lammy for evidence of that.
I’ve heard a lot of discussion from BME empowerment networks about how we can “excel” by taking highly paid jobs in the city, but such occupations merely clothe us in the attire of our oppressors, and meaningful empowerment can only be achieved by disrupting the systems of domination that we face. There is no other space that facilitates that level of social change than the charity sector, and it is in dire need of a facelift.
Young people can serve as non-executive directors and trustees of charitable organisations, and that is the space in which we can make the greatest difference. There is a charity out there looking for a young person with your skills, interests and talents. Moreover, they need you to ensure that they produce best possible decisions. Find your niche and show the world that a black person’s place is in the boardroom.
Written by Michael Abiodun Olatokun