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Photo: DFID | Attribution 2.0 Generic

We need diversity to tackle the governance challenge

3 March 2017
Author: Aamirah Patel

This month marks a year of my becoming a trustee at Restless Development. I’m 24 years old, but my journey began back in November 2014, being trained to work on sexual reproductive health and rights programmes with the team in rural South Africa as a volunteer on the International Citizen Service programme. 

I never imagined I’d sit on a board of governance. I am not a numbers-driven individual, and the thought of understanding dashboards and being accountable for an organisation’s finances was a daunting prospect. But I learnt very early on to challenge the preconception that young people will have less relevant experience than those who have been working for longer. 

Bringing experience on the ground to the board 

Seeing how a charity works internally and then operating within the development sector has developed my confidence in being a trustee. Having served as a youth representative from the age of 13, a campaigner and proceeding to intern within policy and programmes teams within the development sector, I have been exposed to a diverse range of organisations which work on the national and the global scale, including exposure to small and large organisations.  

This was the diversity of experience I brought to the board. Having been both a beneficiary of Restless Development’s programmes and a young person from the diaspora in the UK, I play a role with different purposes. I also have the advantage of being a young person with a different perspective who has experienced how one of the programmes works on the ground and remains connected to the UK-focused campaigns work.  

Bringing a young voice to a visible seat on the board of an organisation which actively champions youth power globally feels like a given. Restless Development has recently launched an ambitious new strategy – a strategy that aims to unleash youth leadership to deliver change in the world. It can only succeed with young people like me, in this kind of leadership role, at its heart. Yet many international development organisations who work with young people don’t have this presence on the board level. 

Championing diversity throughout organisations

I think it’s important to have a diverse range of skillsets present on boards of governance. Not every individual needs to be an accountant or consultant – although it’s been interesting to learn that even they want to attend training on the basics of governance. 

How old you are shouldn’t work against you, nor how much experience you have. A young person with the right skills, knowledge or experience can be just as valuable as an older trustee.  Organisations should place value on young trustees because there aren’t enough on boards and there should be. 

So many young, driven successful individuals want to be a part of real sustainable development and are keen to see collaboration between the public, private and third sectors. Just as we work to ensure there is diversity in the workplace, we need diversity at the board level to remain relevant as organisations moving forward. This generation of young people needs to be more involved in tackling the challenges it sees in the world and needs to be given the space to do so - beyond joining a youth board. We need a shift in the way development is done, so that young people are able to deliver, inform and influence all aspects of development that affects their lives, communities and countries. 

Restless Development’s status as a leader in youth advocacy, empowerment and commitment is carried out at all levels. I want to ensure this continues. This is just one of the many drivers that motivates me to hold the organisation to account as a trustee and to be a critical voice in the room when there needs to be one, while developing my skills and understanding along the way. 

Facing the governance challenge

Find out how boards can navigate through challenging times at the Bond Conference with Aamirah, as well as Marie Staunton, chair of Raleigh International, Dr Philip Goodwin, chief executive of VSO, and Gibril Faal OBE, director of GK Partners and Bond trustee.

About the author

Aamirah Patel
Restless Development

Aamirah Patel is a youth trustee of Restless Development. She began her journey in youth participation from the age of 13 as a deputy member of the UK Youth Parliament, and is currently a campaigns coordinator at RESULTS UK.