The Light of Life Magazine
A ministry of Christian writing

October 2010

Shantanu Dutta

It is important to have the right composition in the Boards.

My organisation's board meeting took place a few weeks ago. Though the meeting was planned as a whole day event, all business had been conducted by lunch time. There were several eminent people present, all spoke and shared their views articulately and freely. Yet it was still possible to have a vibrant discussion and still all the transactions could be completed earlier than what was anticipated. Every one found time to listen to each other and although by the end of the meeting, a lot of decisions had been taken, they had been made so collaboratively that it would be very difficult for any one person to have claimed credit for the decision.

The free afternoon time left with lots of time to think of other board meetings where I have participated, usually as a member, but sometimes as a participant. I remembered meetings of different hues; but the most common memory is that of dull, listless meetings dominated by one person, usually a man, while others sat around with a bored look, wondering what they were really doing there. Some basic, legal requirements were hurriedly gone through monotonously and then the crowd quickly dispersed. They would gather together in a similar fashion in another 6 months or a year for a repetition of this mindless ritual.

Sadly, governance in India is not taken seriously; at least not in the non-profit sector where I have spent a lot of my life. It is assumed that because the organisations involved in charity work are supposedly there with highly altruistic motives, everything is just fine with the way they are run and with the way they are governed. And so boards and such, by whatever name called, are considered a necessary evil, thrust upon us by the nasty arm of the law. Governance thus is something that is considered an intrusion demanded and required by the law and not something to be pursued for its own intrinsic merit. So, a lot of boards and governing bodies are filled by sycophants and toadies-hangers on with nothing of worth to contribute. The worst case scenario, and yet not uncommon either, are boards staffed by family members and relatives of the founder or the CEO.

And yet, accountability is in built into the Scriptures. The Bible describes the church as a body. This metaphorical description teaches us that the church is a spiritual organism where members are closely related to each other and interdependent on each other. The church is also described as the household of faith (Gal.6:10). This teaches us that we, as a spiritual family, should be concerned and responsible for each other. Most Christians today do not think it is their business to be concerned for their fellow-members. Like ungodly Cain, they say, "Am I my brother's keeper?"

The Bible speaks a lot about Christian accountability. First of all, the Bible says that God holds us accountable. "So then each of us shall give account of himself to God" (Rom.14:12). This is personal accountability. Christians are also accountable to one another. We read that Christians are all part of the same body-the body of Christ-and each member needs or belongs to the other (1 Cor.12) This Scripture suggests the importance of strong accountability between believers. It is important for every believer to have at least one other person in which to confide, pray with, listen to, and encourage.

Another aspect of Christian accountability is encouraging each other to grow in their spiritual maturity. Hebrews 10:24 says, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds." "...encourage one another and build each other up..." (1 Thess. 5:11).

The Right People On The Board
My own board meeting has impressed upon me the value of having caring, involved people of integrity on the board. They perform all the necessary statutory duties of course; but go far beyond that limited statutory duty. By virtue of the eminence they have in different fields of occupation, they become helpful sources of information, guidance and most importantly, of advice. They do not intrude in the day-to-day running of the organisation-an activity for which they are too busy any way; but remain available to advise, guide and provide valuable insights-something that only the foolish would overlook.

Although it would seem that governance can fall by the wayside, even in the corporate sector as evidenced by the experience of Satyam, it is an unfortunate fact that in the NGO sector we do not know enough to educate our board members on what their individual roles and responsibilities are and what they can and cannot do. The sad result is that often NGO boards are either complete rubber stamps nodding assent to everything that the Chief Executive does or at the other extreme, an overbearing, micro-managing body, stifling every initiative.

Perhaps, the trick is in having the right composition for your board, in choosing people who are eminent in their profession and are also adequately informed about the work of the organisation individuals, who are committed without being too interfering or intimidating. When a bunch of such people gathers, animated conversation crystallises into sagely counsel and wise decisions. And board meetings are no longer bored meetings.

2010 Light of Life