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I come to this from the perspective of a white guy from a wonderfully stable and supportive background, who went from being a greengrocer’s son to charity CEO. When I started out in our sector 30 years ago, I was an anomaly: our world was populated at the top by aged men who were rounding off successful commercial or military careers with a ‘spot of charity’ to ‘give back’. Many of them were even quite good at it! But they were an anachronism – and would look it if they still led the sector today.
Things are different now. Now large nationals are run predominately by people like me. But at best we symbolise the problem of the dearth of diverse leadership in the sector – and, at worst, we are part of it.
The sector needs a new cadre of leaders who reflect and understand all of the communities we’re here to reach, and exemplify what the sector should be about.
People like me need to rethink what we do, and how we do it, in a way that helps get us there faster.
Move beyond words
If you are like me, other people will have been fundamental to your progression and they still are – whether informally or through mentoring. But I find I learn as much from those I mentor as from those who have mentored me. At its best the experience takes me into a world I don’t understand, which challenges me. My own – if selective – insight from mentoring younger Black and Asian men and women is that they face barriers which eclipse those I experienced 30 years ago.
As a sector we have to address this if our worthy EDI statements are to be more than words.
Many leaders like me are thinking through how to best address ever-present questions of (class and race) diversity in their organisations. So why not match us with nascent leaders from different backgrounds in a reciprocal mentoring programme which encourages give as well as gain? Not reverse mentoring but reciprocal mentoring – building from the best of mentoring relationships ACEVO already initiates, and the value they bring to both mentees and mentors.
2027 is a 12-month salaried programme that enlists brilliant frontline workers from working-class communities to work in funding organisations. 2027 believes that greater diversity at the top of foundations and trusts can help these organisations make better decisions, while better representing the communities they serve.
As a pilot programme, 2027 Partnerships is now looking for 12 CEOs and senior leaders at established charities (and not just trusts and foundations) to partner with 12 talented 2027 associates in a reciprocal mentoring programme. The pairings will meet online for an hour a month to discuss, debate and learn from each other across six themes: connection, barriers, management, getting on, leadership and legacy.
Pairings of parity
The key is that there is parity in these relationships with both partners agreeing to support the growth and development of the other. The senior leader has access to platforms, network and work experience that will be incredibly beneficial to the associate. The associate has expertise of working frontline in working class communities and has a depth of understanding and lived experience of many key societal issues, as well as thoughts and ideas about what a different kind of leadership could look like.
The aim is that the pairings will engage in interesting and thoughtful dialogue, each listening deeply to new perspectives to challenge beliefs, increase critical thinking and improve future decision-making.
We know it is a bit of an experiment: hence the pilot. At its heart it’s a simple idea of two people with different life experiences discussing issues that matter to each of them individually, but with a core concern to see greater diversity in our sector. Mostly that learning will be between them. But we’re keen to capture what learning we have collectively: for the sector; for organisations like ours, and for people like 2027 candidates seeking to break into the sector. So while it may be 12 (or 24) quite different parts, it should add up to more than their sum.
The time commitment isn’t onerous and should repay itself if it helps you do your job better. And 2027 is asking for a small contribution to its costs. If you’re interested but your organisation can’t afford it, let us know.
All we need is 12 CEOs willing to see and think differently.
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