The importance of difference: reflections on six years on the British Council board of trustees

Unexpected colour on an evening in Riyadh

This month — after six years as a trustee — I stepped down from the board of the British Council. It was my first ever time serving as a board member or trustee and alongside my wanting to contribute to the organisation itself, part of my motivation when I joined was to challenge myself and learn. So now that I’ve completed my time, here is a little reflection on my experience. I hope you it useful. But first for context if you need it…

Quick guide to the British Council

Quick guide to its board

Imposter syndrome is real yo

Those first one or two boards were tough. Not only was I getting a handle on the format and formalities of the meetings, I didn’t yet have the confidence to speak in as direct a manner as I would have liked. What helped change that was realising that I was there as a peer not as a junior and that my differences were especially valuable since they brought fresh perspectives and helped shine light on blind spots. For that, I’m especially grateful to Usha Prashar and Vernon Ellis, the then vice-chair and chair who showed a special level of trust in me. I doubt I’ll ever meet as skilful a human as Usha in a board context in my life.

And while I do have a very privileged background (educated at a London private school, then Oxford, first job at Accenture etc), I realise now that the board at the time took a big gamble bringing me on. They backed me and my potential and while yes I did tick a lot of diversity boxes, on a board of twelve there isn’t really room for people who are just there for window-dressing.

All of which leads me to the only real point I want to make:

Institutions need to take more risks with board appointments because in times of ongoing turbulence it is difference that will move things forward

The headhunter issue

There is however another critical factor…

The money issue

There is a lot more I could have said about what has been an amazing six years: what I learnt about high-level politics, the future of English language teaching, the meeting of ‘high art’ with digital culture, the role of soft-power in a post-Brexit world etc etc. But I’ll save that for another day. The British Council is a truly important institution and I’m excited to keep in touch and see where it goes next. I’ve stepped down at a fascinating time and wish the new chair Stevie Spring all my best for her time heading it up.

And if you’ll indulge me, here are some random highlights of my time:

Best moment

Worst moment

Funniest moment

Best trip

Least good trip

Least formal board member-like moment

What’s next for me board-wise?

Special thanks

Enjoying my Al-Baik midnight feast in Jeddah

Creator of buddhify. Author of Modern Mindfulness. Also made Designing Mindfulness, Kara etc.

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