Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Diary of a Young Trustee - by Felicity Jones

Felicity Jones (@faejones),  is a young trustee of Medsin-UK (@medsinuk) and Afrinspire (@Afrinspire), an a supporter of Trustees' Week. She is also an ambassador of Young Charity Trustees (YoungTrustees). Now in her fifth her as a medical student at King's College London, she looks back on her experience as a trustee so far.

"Boring? Trusteeship?" I can't help but stare at my friend in disbelief. What could she mean? I think back over the year that I've spent serving on Medsin-UK’s board of trustees. I can think of many ways to describe it, but boring certainly isn't one of them.

I came across trusteeship almost by accident, when Medsin-UK, the student global health network that I'd been closely involved in decided to form its first professional trustee board, and, to remain true to its values of student empowerment, to recruit young professionals and students to fill some of the spaces. I'd been involved with charities and volunteering over several years, but had always assumed one needed to be a crusty professor of at least 60, with a good few world-famous publications in order to become a trustee, but through taking on a leadership position within the charity, found myself ideally placed to represent students' views within the board.

I soon realised that whilst my stereotypical view of trustees was in fact fairly accurate (the average age of a trustee is 57, and many are male, and often well-known in their field), as a 22-year old student, I still had a lot I could contribute. My generation is best-placed to design contemporary, accessible communication strategies to engage other young people, and having grown up using social media and digital technology, I also found I could offer insights about how to incorporate these into marketing, communication and external relations planning. One of Medsin's biggest achievements this year has been designing and implementing a new, rebranded website, and this process was almost entirely led by my 23-year-old partner-in-crime Daniel Knights. Additionally, whilst the older trustees have lent our board valuable experience in the global health and charity arenas, a plethora of useful contacts, and skills in key areas such as charity governance and finance, it is the younger trustees who have dared to dream big, and maintained the enthusiasm and momentum to realise these dreams. Thus it is the diversity of our skill-sets and experience which allow the board to thrive.

Trusteeship has offered me some incredible opportunities. I've learnt so much from the other members of the board, and from training in areas such as fundraising strategies, facilitation and negotiation skills and engaging with supporters. Better still, I've had the opportunity to put these skills into practice through representing Medsin to external organisations and sponsors. I’ve really enjoyed attending key global health events, and meeting eminent figures in the field to discuss Medsin’s work and potential for collaboration. Not only have these relationships benefitted Medsin, but I have learnt a lot and made some great contacts in the process. I believe Medsin’s commitment to equipping young people has allowed me to engage above and beyond the norm, but being a trustee of any charity offers a unique set of opportunities to develop high-level skills, and learn from other board members and prominent individuals in the charity world.

It’s not all been easy -but then I don’t think there are many things in life worth having which are. There have been times this year where I’ve felt stressed, or stretched beyond my capabilities. But learning how to rise to these challenges has emphasised both my strengths and weaknesses, and really helped me to determine my priorities and what drives me. Working with others in complex situations has taught me a lot about appreciating others’ perspectives, and strengthened my relationships both within and outside of my team, and, as Christian, with God. I hope and believe that having had these experiences and developed better self-awareness will equip me to tackle new issues more effectively when they arise in the future.

Looking forward, I am confident that the experiences I’ve had, and abilities I have developed through serving on Medsin’s board will help me in my career and future plans. As a medical student at King’s College London, improving my time-management and organisation skills help me manage a heavy workload.  The past year has also helped me get better at managing stress and keeping calm in the midst of A & E chaos, although I think it might take a few more years to perfect this skill!
I appreciate the necessity for clinical leadership, and, increasingly, managerial skills in our changing NHS, and believe that experiences such as spear-heading the creation of Medsin’s first 3-year strategic development plan have helped me to enhance these qualities, and taught me a lot about planning techniques, consulting with a wide range of stakeholders, and organisational governance.
Additionally, I have been fortunate enough to work with some of Medsin’s eminent supporters and patrons to develop our global health education, which has allowed me to develop skills in curricula-planning, and resource-development, which has only further fuelled my passion for medical education.
All in all I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as a Medsin-UK trustee, and look forward to the challenges that this next year on the board will bring! I would thoroughly recommend the experience to anyone interested in the charity sector or volunteering, whether or not you consider yourself to have “special skills”. For me at least, one of the main barriers to applying was feeling I didn’t have anything to offer, but I’ve learnt that enthusiasm, time, and a different perspective can be a valuable offering, and working with a board provides countless opportunities to gain new skills, which you can utilise throughout your career. I’m very excited to be taking everything I’ve learned this year with me, to a second trusteeship with Afrinspire; a Cambridge-based charity working to support community-led, sustainable development in East Africa. And there are lots of other boards out there which would benefit from the perspective of a younger person –so I would really encourage any other trustees-in-the-making to get involved with Trustees' Week and Young Trustees and chat to those in the sector about upcoming opportunities! You never know what you will find, but I can promise you it won’t be boring!

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