Sumathy wondered how she could get the board to engage. While she had a wealth of governance experience from various secular contexts, when she became board chair of FOCUS, the national movement in Sri Lanka, she realised that there were problems that she couldn’t fix on her own. And in an ongoing search for a new general secretary for the movement, the timing was crucial.
What’s a board chair to do? Sumathy arranged online training sessions with the IFES Governance Development team. She ensured they would get the most out of it by including prospective board members, including two recent graduates. They were all set for a transformation.
The training prompted this transformation in a number of areas. The board initiated new procedures, to build up their organisational memory and prevent meetings from being spent on the same conversations every time. Training leader Mirek Pieszka, Governance Development Program Director for IFES, brought in board members from other IFES movements, with specific wisdom for FOCUS Sri Lanka’s circumstances.
Dan Anderson, Board Chair of AFES Australia, for instance, helped them formulate procedures. The board modeled their new regular Strategy Day on the example of Nelson Gitonga from FOCUS Kenya, and Christy Jutare from IVCF Philippines shared wisdom on general secretary transition. The ‘organisational memory’ of IFES was able to draw support from around the world, with guidance tailored to FOCUS Sri Lanka’s exact situation.
What has been the biggest change? The training brought home a fresh vision of the purpose of the board, that it isn’t to stand above the movement with rules and routines, but to serve, by thinking through hard, strategic questions. Sumathy refers to the concept of steering a ship, deciding who to take on board, or which direction to travel in. Mirek imagines the board as a riverbed, through which the day-to-day work of the national movement, led by the general secretary, can flow freely. When board members are engaged and procedures are in place, there is space to think about ship-steering questions. Simultaneously, when boards are functioning well, they create space for student work to go supported and unhindered. Kerwin Stuart, Governance Trainer based in St Lucia and Associate General Secretary of CARIFES, affirms that history has proven the significance of an effective board to student movements – it’s ‘the foundation of the house that you don’t see’. Sumathy feels that as the search for the next general secretary continues, God is directing the board to lay a foundation for a movement freshly empowered to reach the students of Sri Lanka for him.
Pray for FOCUS Sri Lanka:
- Pray as the board works through the General Secretary transition. Ask that God would lead them to the right leadership and take FOCUS forward into a new chapter of flourishing and growth.
- Pray that God would lead the Governance Development team to movements where they can make a difference, as in Sri Lanka.
- Pray that all national movement board members would understand the significance of what they are working towards and fully take ownership of their God-given responsibility.