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#MeetTheAmbassadors: Afshan D'Souza-Lodhi

Jasmin Glynne

21 June 2021

Each week we will be spotlighting one of our amazing 2021 cohort of Ambassadors! This week we caught up with North West regional ambassador Afshan D'souza-Lodhi to discuss trusteeship and the importance of boardroom diversity to navigating risk in organisations.

Afshan D’souza-Lodhi


Young Trustees Movement Ambassador

Afshan D’souza-Lodhi was born in Dubai to Indian and Pakistani parents and was lost in Manchester. She is a writer of plays, prose, performance pieces, and passive-aggressive tweets. Afshan’s first degree was in Philosophy, and her Masters was in Post-Colonial Literature and Culture. As well as her own writing, Afshan is keen to develop other younger and emerging artists. Afshan currently freelances with numerous cultural organisations. She sits on the boards of the Manchester Literature Festival and Pie Radio. Afshan also sits on the steering committee for the Northern Police Monitoring Project, an independent campaigning and advocacy organization that challenges police harassment and violence.

As an artist I have been fortunate enough to be included really early on in conversations around power and lived experience. I identify as a Queer South-Asian woman from a Muslim background from the North of England. All these identity markers give me insights into privilege (and lack thereof), power (and lack thereof), and give me access to knowledge that other people may have to do a PhD to understand.

When it comes to the arts, culture and charity sectors, there is often a power imbalance between those that run the organisations and have decision-making power and those who the organisations seek to serve. This is a problem. Boards that don’t reflect the make-up of the communities they serve are at greater risk of creating programmes that are not needed or even desired by the communities. This leaves these organisations open to greater financial risk.

Greater board diversity means better programming. I’m not saying that having a person of colour or young person on your board is going to magically solve all your problems, just that you will be in a better position to find solutions.

Having said that, the burden of representation on marginalised people is already really high, so let’s not tokenise, yeah? I have a policy (loosely based on a Stormzy lyric - “take that fee and treble it twice”), if I am the only person of colour and/or the only woman and/or the only young person on a panel and am expected to represent that identity then the organisers can either double my fee or invite someone else onto the panel too. This stops organisers from just seeing me as a magical token and helps lift the burden of representation from my shoulders. Boards need to start doing the same.

The first board I sat on I was the only non-white person, but not the only young person. I found I was able to share experiences about being young and provide insight into programmes and policies knowing that there was someone else on the board who could provide an alternative view if needed. However, when it came to race, I struggled to talk about my personal experiences – I did not want my experience to be generalised to all Black and Asian and Minority Ethnic parts of BAME. Instead, I ended up volunteering to help write the EDI policies and audience development plans to ensure that racial diversity was looked at properly. In another organisation I noticed that I was always invited to sit on the interview panel (again I was the only non-white person there), which put me in a difficult position. On the one hand I don’t always have the time/energy to do every panel, on the other hand I know how important it is for candidates to see people that look like them on the interview panel. This dilemma is faced by many marginalised people.

My campaign with the Young Trustees Movement focuses on just this. 1/12 trustees are called either John or David, while less than 3% of trustees are under 30. For greater board diversity we need the Johns and Davids to move on and create space for young people, for women, for people of colour, for disabled people, for queer people. Boards bringing in board terms for trustees would stop the gatekeeping of power, but also give the organisations a refresh and access to more networks and knowledge.

It all starts with funders leading by example. Innovative governance is key to building momentum to this movement and campaign. Until then, come along to the Webinar this week on `Navigating Risk, Financial Management & Young Trustees’.

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