Young Trustee Crash Course

Former board members mentor the next generation of young trustees

At the end of this past summer, The Boarding School launched its first Young Trustee Crash Course. Spread out over two days, this crash course included three training sessions led by notable speakers from Harvard, Princeton, and the Intentional Endowments Networks. The intention was to connect experienced mentors with current and upcoming young trustees, and share advice related to board structures and dynamics, communication skills, and basic endowment knowledge.

The training on Friday, August 28th was led by a former member of the executive committee of Harvard’s Board of Overseers. Program participants included the three Harvard Forward (HF) candidates that were recently elected to the Board — Jayson Taweh, Thea Sebastian and Margeret Purce — as well as HF candidate Lisa Bi Juang, HF campaign manager Danielle Strasburger, HF strategy and policy advisor Nathan Goldberg, and The Boarding School Executive Director Julia Huesa.

The host began by addressing the central priorities of the Harvard Forward campaign, which are fossil fuel divestment and social justice. Although they recognized that “there [are] so many ways Harvard could do better” in regards to social justice and equity on campus, they pointed out the difficulties associated with advocating for divestment through a trustee position. Given that the endowment is under the jurisdiction of the Harvard Management Company, they explained how they were able to leverage the power they did have to create as much real and impactful change as possible during their term, and offered invaluable advice to the participants. They helped the three HF Overseers brainstorm which committees would be the best fit for them, described how to network within the board, and offered strategies to prompt important board reform. This crash course offered exceptional insight into the first-hand experiences of a Harvard Overseer, and was an incredibly informative training session for the candidates to learn from.

The first training on Saturday, August 29th was led by Alice DonnaSelva and Georges Dyer, two experienced representatives from the Intentional Endowments Network. Presenting to the three new HF overseers as well as Maggie Thomas from the Yale Forward campaign, they elucidated important endowment concepts, such as what an endowment truly is and how it is run, endowment returns, financial analyses, and ESG investing. This crash course helped the young trustees gain a more in-depth understanding of the technicalities of an institution’s endowment, which are often not made available to the public. It also equipped them with further resources, examples, and models to better analyze the unique investments associated with their own institution’s endowment.

The second training on Saturday featured Azza Cohen, a former young trustee from Princeton University. Among the many best practices Azza shared, some highlights were the importance of “engaging with people who disagree with you,” “speaking up in the very first meeting,” and “pull[ing] on people’s heartstrings.” She explained the need to frame arguments in such a way as to demonstrate that the proposed reforms are consistent with the institution’s core values, because “antagonistic ways of getting change to happen on a board level simply don’t work.” Azza also helped emphasize the importance of finding a good mentor on the board. Using her own personal experience, she explained the importance of not being afraid to reach out to current or former trustees to seek advice and better understand board proceedings. Azza’s anecdotes and insights provided the participants with an inspiring model of how they might strike the balance between confidence and humility while serving in their position.

The Boarding School is grateful to these leaders for sharing their experiences and advice with the candidates, and look forward to hosting more crash courses in the future.

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Created by and for young people, The Boarding School is a 501c(3) nonprofit dedicated to recruiting and training young people to serve on boards of organizations that affect their lives.

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