Governance matters: What we seek in our partners’ Board of directors.

Francesco Conrotto Caruso
Firetree Philanthropy


One of our biggest learnings this year was around organizational governance and the challenges of overseas governance and/or governance teams that don’t have deep knowledge and experience of a context. While a common model that can work well is some cases, at its worst this can result in unhelpful power dynamics and interventions that don’t meet the local context.

We have now formalized our commitment to only fund organizations that have all aspects of their work, including governance in their country of operation and where we are confident that the operational team develop and lead the strategy.

At Firetree Trust, we firmly believe in our role of supporters and partners of leaders and teams with strong visions and commitment and believe members of the board of directors play a similar role of thought-partners and supporters of their organization’s management.

It is essential to Firetree that staff, management and the large majority of members of the Board of Directors of our partners have deep direct knowledge of the local system(s) in which their organizations operate and/or direct understanding of the problem(s) such organizations are solving for.

To be very clear, what matters to us is not whether Directors are local nationals or foreigners but how much knowledge they have about the local context and problem.

The only exception to this is if we have evidence and total confidence that an overseas board exists purely to support essential legal compliance in the country in which the organization is registered (when it can’t be registered under the national laws of the country where it operates) and fundraising (particularly when organizations do not employ staff in fundraising roles and rely mostly on volunteers to raise funds to support their operations), but the strategy is entirely developed and led by the team in the context where the organization operates.

Starting from 2020, Firetree Trust will ensure that the governance structure of all its new partnerships follows this approach, and in 2021 it will only enter into (or renew) partnerships with organizations that reflect such structure.

Firetree will obviously reflect this approach in all our philanthropic work: Starfish and Tondo Community initiative already have Directors from the communities we work with and/or with deep contextual knowledge of the issues each of our Initiatives is focusing on.

Similarly, Firetree Philanthropy is building a Board composed by key members of other foundations as well as partner organizations in our focus countries. This Board will act as Nicky Wilkinson’s thought partner in the design of the strategy and activities of Firetree Philanthropy, ensuring that our philanthropic work is always connected to the communities in which we work.