BPP Requires Good Governance

Noshir Dadrawala – BPP Trustee

What Is Good Governance?

In my opinion, ‘Good Governance’ is a transparent decision-making process, in which the leadership of a public charitable trust, in an effective and accountable way, directs resources (human and financial capital) and exercises power and position (as trustee) on the basis of shared value. All public charitable trusts, especially those with large financial and other resources, need a strong ‘Governing Body’ (Board of trustees) in order for the organisation to achieve long-term effectiveness.  As the organisation passes through various stages of its life cycle, the governing body’s style may need to change, but the basic areas of responsibility to the organisation remain the same.

 The Four Key Areas Of Responsibility Of A Governing Body:

(I) MISSION AND VISION: The primary reason to serve on the governing board of a public charitable trust is to deliver its mission. The governing body’s responsibility is to determine, reaffirm, support and sustain the organisation’s mission, in line with its Mission Statement and Vision Statement. A Mission Statement clarifies the essence of organizational existence and its purpose, describes the needs the organization was created to fill and answers the basic question of why the organization exists. Through its Vision Statement, the charitable trust defines its ultimate motivation, its dreams, its image of a desired future. For Eg., “No young married Parsi couple in Mumbai will be without proper shelter in the next decade.” Every organization needs both – a Mission Statement and a Vision Statement as a critical part of strategic planning. The mission statement is like a ‘road map’ for the organization while the vision statement is the final destination the organization is attempting to arrive at.

Unfortunately, when scope of vision is restricted to the next election and the mission becomes “only what I think, speak and do, is right”, the ‘Road Map’ becomes a ‘Road Block’ and the ‘Destination’ becomes a ‘Dead End’.

(II) OVERSIGHT: The second area of the governing body’s responsibility is ‘Oversight’ or overseeing the governance of the organisation. Oversight establishes appropriate checks and balances to ensure that the organisation is well governed within the framework of the law and its mission is fulfilled. It is particularly important because public charitable trusts like the BPP are often the subject of intense public scrutiny.

Trustees of the BPP are expected to ‘govern’ as per a ‘scheme’ sanctioned by the Bombay High Court. The scheme makes no reference to an ‘Acting Chairman’ or ‘Acting Chairperson’. It requires that in the absence of the Chairman, the Trustees may elect from among themselves a Chairman for a meeting. This could easily be done by rotation. But, when convenient, the ‘letter’ of the ‘scheme’ is invoked, and when not convenient, the ‘spirit’ of the scheme is invoked!!!

Trustee Mrs. Tirandaz has been chairing every meeting since Mr. Yazdi Desai (who is currently the BPP Chairman) took ill earlier this year. In the interest of peace and harmony, I try to turn a blind eye to some of my colleagues invoking the ‘spirit of the scheme’ to justify their dominance. But this is not ‘good governance’. This is a wrong practice and precedence which may someday come to bite the very people who are promoting this. After all, ‘what goes around comes around’. This is law of Nature!

Public charitable trusts like the BPP need to avoid conflicts of interest at all times. A Trustee should be above suspicion; no Trustee should participate in a discussion or vote on an issue where there is even a potential conflict of interest. Openness and honesty are essential at all times. Part of the oversight process also is evaluation, which is often easily understood but difficult to implement. Because the governing board is responsible for the overall performance and effectiveness of the organisation, it should conduct periodic assessment of organisation’s activities, as well as its management, to ensure that the organisation is serving the community within its mission.

Self-Assessment: The governing board should conduct an annual self-assessment where every Trustee needs to self-evaluate his/her effectiveness against the agreed benchmarks. This promotes an engaged, active and knowledgeable governing body.  A board self-assessment also helps board members to contribute to their fullest capability. Are trustees ready to do this? So far, the Board has resisted even having an internal ‘Code of Conduct’. Self-evaluation therefore seems a distant dream!

Each trustee may be good in his/her individual capacity, but collectively, the Board is a disaster. Ideological differences can be managed. But where personal differences are concerned, bruised egos become hard to manage. I try to strike the balance. I try to find the golden mean or the middle path but its all about ‘They V/s Us’ instead of ‘We, the trustees of BPP’.

(III) RESOURCES: One of the most challenging responsibilities of service on the governing board is resource development, which includes both financial and human resources. Governing board members do not need to be financial experts, but they must be diligent about reviewing financial reports. Members of the governing board are responsible for developing a fundraising strategy, and they should contribute their time, skill, and influence to raising money. Unfortunately, fundraising has been reduced to selling charity flats to those who have the financial resources at less than prevailing market rates.

Considering BPP’s resource crunch, I am open to the idea auctioning a few large flats at premier baugs. However, I am averse to putting any and every BPP flat up for sale merely because the trust has a resource crunch! What was the original intent of the founders and donors should not be forgotten.

(IV) OUTREACH: All governing board members should be an articulate voice for the organization’s mission, values, and activities. Members of the governing board provide links to the community in which the organization operates.  Outreach by governing body members has two main outlets.  Outreach can be to potential donors and to community-at-large that would benefit from the organization’s activities.  Linkage to both groups requires a strong commitment from each member of the governing board.

The board’s responsibilities to outreach include: Listening to the needs and interests of current and potential stakeholders; Promoting the organization’s mission, activities, and achievements; Ensuring that the organization has marketing and public relations strategies to support the outreach programme; and Developing communications with key business, media and social leaders and inform them of the organization’s work and success.

Good governance is the price we pay for the freedom to exercise power and authority in a free, enlightened and democratic society. The job of a trustee is a thankless one. Even so, one must trudge onward, despite criticism. It’s important that ‘say what I mean’ and ‘mean what I say’. There is no point in mincing my words. I may be at risk of criticism or abuse for speaking my mind and standing up fearlessly for what I believe. But I draw inspiration from the words of the Scottish poet and journalist, Charles Mackay, “You have no enemies, you say? Alas, my friend, the boast is poor. He who has mingled in the fray of duty that the brave endure, must have made foes. If you have none, small is the work that you have done. You’ve hit no traitor on the hip. You’ve dashed no cup from perjured lip. You’ve never turned the wrong to right. You’ve been a coward in the fight.”

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