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Disrupting the group-think

By Sophie Livingstone

This piece is part of our series, Walking the Talk, which explores the diversity of the UK’s charities and foundations, with perspectives from both in and outside the sector. Find the full collection here. 

A board can make or break a charity, but too many are run by cliques, drawn from a small set of networks perpetuated by a lack of open recruitment. That’s why I joined Trustees Unlimited as its first Managing Director last year; because I care about good governance and was excited about being able to strengthen charities by recruiting great candidates to their boards.

Breaking out of ‘group think’ and asking challenging questions requires different voices around the table. And not just a token different voice – a multiplicity, from a range of backgrounds, experiences, characteristics and places. It should be reflective of the beneficiaries the charity currently serves and those it would like to serve.

This is hard. We all know how changing your own mindset can be tough enough (sticking to new year’s resolutions past January, anyone?!) let alone other peoples’, especially those who are probably a bit unsettled and perhaps threatened by the prospect of change.

But, just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. There’s some great work already being done and the point of the Walking the Talk project is to open up a conversation about what has worked in different settings, sectors, charities and organisations and to think about how it could be applied elsewhere.

Trustees Unlimited has funded this work, but we’ve also been involved in the whole process, from suggesting great examples, to making connections with great emerging organisations like Girl Dreamer. It has been a privilege to work with the NPC team and the wider partnership from brap, Community Links and Chware Teg (I was particularly delighted to read about Chware Teg’s work helping Joe’s Ice Cream whose amazing ice cream I consumed a lot of as a child growing up in Swansea.). I have learned a lot and it has inspired me to do more.

Trustees Unlimited turns ten later this year. We were set up to disrupt the market by providing affordable options for charities to openly recruit to their board. There’s arguably an even greater need now for us (and our competitors) to be providing these services, but we also need to be part of helping to persuade people to recruit outside their networks and to fully include new trustees once they’re appointed.

Walking the Talk is one part of our contribution to that work, but we need to do more. What I have learned in this job, and in others before it, is that it’s not people like me who know what we need to do. I was particularly struck by the quote included in Roger Harding’s blog that ‘privilege makes you stupid.’

The examples we’re broadcasting through this project are a start, but as a sector, as organisations, and personally, we need to be open to suggestions and ideas from new, different and challenging places. So I am looking forward to the dialogue that I hope will follow and to the role Trustees Unlimited can play in diversifying boards across the country.

Sophie Livingstone

Sophie Livingstone is Trustees Unlimited’s Managing Director, leading its work as a social purpose business to promote and develop great governance across civil society.

Sophie serves as Chair of early years charity Little Village and is a trustee of the Royal Voluntary Service.  She is also co-founder and co-chair of youth social action charity Generation Change. In this role she represented the youth social action sector on the Steering Committee of HRH Prince of Wales’ #iwill campaign.

Prior to joining Trustees Unlimited, Sophie spent eight years as the founding Chief Executive of full time youth social action charity City Year UK.   She was introduced to City Year while she was Deputy Chief Executive of the Private Equity Foundation and led efforts to bring the organisation to the UK, raising initial funding and building a range of stakeholder support for City Year’s model of full time social action.

In 2016, Sophie received the Mayor’s Fund for London Individual Award for ‘outstanding achievement and lasting impact in tackling the skills and employment agenda for young Londoners from disadvantaged backgrounds’.

She was also listed in the Debrett’s 500 List of top “Philanthropists and Activists” in 2017 and in Management Today’s 35 Women under 35 list in 2011.

Sophie Livingstone

Join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #WalkingTheTalk

For more on Walking the Talk, join us at NPC’s annual conference. This year’s NPC Ignites will feature a breakout session on equality, diversity and inclusion.