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A Conversation with Kenny Imafidon

Kenny Imafidon is a seasoned charity trustee and chair, and the co-founder of two businesses. The first, ClearView Research, specialises in engaging people from diverse backgrounds, and providing clients with culturally-sensitive insights on diverse communities. OnBoard, his new start-up which launched in early 2021 seeks to encourage, empower, and equip younger professionals to take up seats on boards, providing them with training and mentoring.

A Conversation with Kenny Imafidon

You’ve been on boards since the very start of your career. How has this shaped you?

I was on my first board at 19 – it was a baptism of fire, and I was joining as a trustee of a board that’s run by under 25s. There were others on the board who had a better grasp of what we were there to do who supported me and brought me up to speed. Governance exposes you to a different kind of leadership – a strategic leadership. Over time you grow in confidence, particularly once you’ve worked out what your niche is, what the value is that you bring. It’s so important that boards embrace difference, and bring on board people with diverse skillsets, diverse thinking, and diverse lived and professional experience. Being on boards also teaches you the power of governance – the power of good governance to enable an organisation to flourish, and the power of bad governance to run an organisation into the ground. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a privilege to be on boards and they can teach you so much about the way organisations work.

What are the most common barriers in your experience to younger people taking on trustee roles?

A lot of people don’t understand what a board is, and so capable people don’t put themselves forwards because they don’t know what they’re being asked to do. Helping potential candidates to understand what a board is about, how it functions and how they would contribute to one is so important to helping them to see what they will bring. Another barrier I notice is for people with caring responsibilities, organisations should consider when their board meets, and whether they’re able to pay childcare costs to make sure that those with such responsibilities don’t feel excluded.

What would your advice be to other younger trustees?

Being a trustee is a rewarding experience but it is also a commitment that comes with a personal and legal responsibility. So new trustees should proactively make use of the online training on governance that’s out there, commit time and energy to reading the papers thoroughly and asking questions if you are not sure about something (you can’t afford to not say something), to seeking mentors and programmes that can give them the foundations they need to become an effective trustee. In addition to all of this, ask your organisation for support and training in relation to your board role and also for a board buddy who can mentor you when you join the board.

What are the most common mistakes you see charity boards making?

I think it’s again about people understanding the purpose of a board – it’s about strategy, not operations. Such distinctions are vital. Trustees need to have a clear grasp of what the board is there to do. Organisations should invest in their boards, giving trustees training in the basics at least. You can have an excellent career, but be an awful trustee, as competence in the workplace does not necessarily translate to competence on boards. If you don’t understand what you’re there to do and you're not equipped for the role, you won’t be a good trustee. A lot of this responsibility rests with the chair of a board as you have more power and therefore more responsibility, and influence over the overall board performance. When I became City Gateway chair, I bought the trustees Boards by Patrick Dunne to provide them with a reference point for best practice and ensured that we had group training.

What are you reading at the moment?

Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. It’s about boundaries in all areas of life – the workplace, marriage, children. It actually speaks a lot into being a trustee as again a lot of it is a question of boundaries – what you get involved in, what you don’t, how much time you can give and to what.

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