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Higher Ambitions, Lower Expectations

Megan Raybould

01 May 2023

Hannan Ali shares his experience of being a young trustee and how he believes boards can do better: by having higher standards, and lower expectations. Read on to find out what he means...

To solve the complex issues we face today, governing boards must be bolder, have higher ambitions, and lower expectations when it comes to trustees.

Higher ambitions can motivate board members to strive for excellence and work harder to achieve their goals, while lowering expectations can create a more realistic and achievable set of goals for the board to pursue.

What do I mean by lowering expectations? I want to challenge the idea that trustees must be faultless and instead promote the idea that everyone can make mistakes, learn and develop - even trustees. When we start a new project, we don’t have the expectation that everyone involved should know everything straight away… so why have them as young trustees?

A balanced combination is essential for creating a healthy and productive environment that involves young people in governance.

I joined my first board after I met the head of a small start-up at the Young Trustees Movement 2020 launch of the #iwill Young Trustee Recruitment Checklist (you can download it here). Two years later, I am serving on several boards that are all different from one another.

A common misconception is that young people can only serve effectively on boards of educational institutions or charities that work specifically with young people. Whilst I am a governor at my local college in Luton, none of the other boards on which I serve directly work with young people. It is important to recognise that young people are your stakeholders, regardless of the subject matter of your organisation.

My following experiences on the different boards I sit on demonstrates some of the core values I believe we should be embedding in trusteeship.

We and AI is an organisation that aims to increase awareness and understanding of Artificial Intelligence. In 2020, it was merely an idea taking the shape of a start-up charity. For context, I had no knowledge of AI, this was my first trusteeship, and trying to make AI for everyone is no small task in itself. Yet Tania Duarte, the Founder and Director, wasn't expecting me to come up with any ground-breaking solutions. Instead, she recognised my strengths and contributions in practice, which provided me with a confidence boost that no book could have.

The Grant Givers Movement (GGM) is an unincorporated, non-hierarchical group that exists to provide a platform for individuals working in grant making to raise their collective voice on pressing issues affecting the sector. Rather than setting unrealistic expectations for perfection, we depend on the capacity and knowledge of each member of the steering group, and we all contribute in our own way. The dynamics of our group are far from transactional, and clear communication allows us to support each other on tasks in an agile way. GGM is to traditional governance what black is to white.

The Founder and Chair of All Ways Network, Ayesha Tariq, reached out to help offer support to groups serving Muslim communities in the UK to prepare them to apply for funding. What led me to joining the board was that when I initially joined as a volunteer a space was provided for me to input at a strategic level. The effort made to encourage contributions is what convinced me.

Lowering expectations does not imply lowering standards, cutting corners, or disregarding due diligence – these boundaries should be concrete. Expectations are more about projecting your standards.

It would be prudent to humanise your board and think of it like a family. You would not expect perfection from your parents or siblings, so it is unreasonable to do the same in this instance. As such, I recommend evaluating your recruitment process and asking if your current non-negotiables are truly non-negotiable as these may be acting as a hindrance for young people.

The points I’ve talked about in this article are especially key for young people, not because they offer a lower standard in trustee roles, but because they might be more impacted by the unattainable expectations set out in trustee adverts. By re-evaluating our processes, raising the bar of ambition, upholding high governance standards, and lowering expectations, I am confident that having young trustees involved in governance as the norm is an attainable vision.

Hannan Ali is a Funding Manager in the Philanthropy and Grantmaking sector. He has worked on a range of Place-Based Programmes and is experienced in Community Development. He started his Governance journey as a Young Trustee and is now involved with numerous non-profit Boards.

To hear more from Hannan follow him on Twitter: @HannanAli1_

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