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My year as an ambassador for the young trustees movement

Abiodun Olatokun

07 November 2022

London Ambassador Abiodun Olatokun reflects on his year with us!

I have greatly enjoyed my year as a London Ambassador of the Young Trustees Movement. I have had an opportunity to reflect and would like to tell you all about it! I’ve split my activities into the four seasons to provide some structure to my thoughts. I hope this is helpful for anyone looking to get involved with our organisation!

Spring 2021

I sat an interview, became an ambassador and attended my first training session for the Young Trustees Movement in February 2021.

Shortly after that I wrote a blog outlining what I wanted to achieve and some problems that I perceived in the sector. For me young people were underrepresented on boards because 1) trusteeship is not well-known across society and 2) recruiting organizations set artificially high thresholds for previous experience that indirectly discriminate against talented young governors.

Around this time I also met Malcolm John, founder of the ‘Action for Trustee Racial Diversity’ (ATRD) campaign. Malcolm wrote an excellent guide for charities on improving the diversity of their boards. After reviewing (without recommending amendments) a previous version of that guide I knew that I wanted to work with him. He is a national leader in promoting minority participation in trusteeship and I became a passionate member of his Advisory Group immediately.

We then sat on a panel at an event with Charity People, ‘Volunteering for Charity Leadership’ that you can view online here. My points were largely around the growing evidence base showing that diverse teams perform more effectively.

Summer 2021

Summer 2021 was largely spent working with ATRD Malcolm to develop the network of Black and Asian trustees. I gave an interview for a trustee profile that we would put onto the forum in June.

Throughout the Summer we held a series of focus groups with Black and Asian chairs of non-profit organisations to talk through our shared challenges, hopes and interests. I made comprehensive (private) notes about these and have given the headline points in a blog for the Association of Chairs, here.

I also had the opportunity through YTM to be part of a planning group for Trustees Week 2021. At that meeting we considered the messages that we would like to amplify during the campaign. I have always wondered whether we are doing a disservice to diverse trustee applicants when we show them diverse faces in trusteeship. If our promotion of trusteeship shows diverse young people and tells them ‘you will fit in’, we are not telling the unblemished truth. Speaking to those Black and Asian chairs it became clear to me that trusted messages (this is an opportunity you could do) from trusted messengers (a leader in the community) have been absent around this topic.

Autumn 2021

Since 2017 I have been a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts. In September fellow members running the ‘FRSA100’ got in touch. The campaign is an initiative to highlight the work of 100 Fellows around the globe. My effort under this campaign was getting 10 young people from groups underrepresented in the charity sector onto boards. My activities ran against the economics of the trustee recruitment market- there is very little demand for trustees from these sections of society and so I would be fighting an uphill battle and would need as much publicity as I could get.

1-5 November was Trustees Week 2021. Malcolm and I shot videos explaining that trusteeship should be a viable path for every single community within our country with no exceptions.

I then also began a relationship with an organisation called Cause 4, a social business founded to support charities to achieve more and better. They run a Trustee Leadership Development Programme and I was honoured to be invited to have lead sessions with them as part of this programme, talking through my career and trusteeships.

Winter (and the rest!)

Towards the end of my time with the movement I was part of the process of reporting back to our funders about the public benefit we have achieved and what we had been able to do. I reflected proudly on the achievements above, whilst telling a story.

I have included quite a lot of CV-fodder and career milestones above, but the biggest difference this year has made to me is much more personal.

I am a Nigerian Yoruba, a tribal group whose identity has been eroded by slavery, colonialism and the brain drain from Africa. Despite that I am a barrister of the courts of England and Wales, attended a Uk grammar school and play rugby. I am about as anglicised as it gets. That mixed origin means I have always felt a tension between the beat of the djembe drum and the pluck of the harpsichord. YTM introduced me to Mojisola, who runs the Utopia Theatre in Sheffield, a combination of our Yoruba rhythms and opera. Finding Mojisola’s organisation is the closest I have ever felt to being truly at home, and I helped her fill her board with diverse trustees. That was a task that really meant a lot to me; it felt like I was finally giving back to my ancestors, whilst showing people in the country that I live in what it means to be Yoruba. When talking about working with her at a meeting with a YTM funder, I felt tears coming to my eye.

Most recently I participated in the annual Community Housing Cymru Governance Conference. During the panel discussion I focused on the major lessons that ATRD had drawn from its focus group research and the guide Malcolm wrote.

In the limelight of my time with the YTM I am working with the key thought leaders in the trusteeship space to make things better overall on a strategic basis. I have continued to work with Getting On Board for the Festival of Trusteeship, a week of awesome events during TrusteeWeek2022, and was a member of an advisory board that compiled the “How to diversify your charity's board” guide.

In reflection, things went really well this year. I feel accomplished, energised and enthused at the end of my time with YTM. I have been empowered to take part in conversations that I was excluded from at the start of my trustee career. I readily encourage any young person to apply to be an Ambassador or Champion, because you will meet many like-minded changemakers and you too will get an opportunity to make a positive difference.

We really appreciate Abiodun taking the time to reflect on his experience as an Ambassador. If you're interested in becoming a YTM Ambassador, join our mailing list at the bottom of this page to hear when applications open again!

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