It’s all about diversity

A lack of direct address

Former Mana­ging Direc­tor of Swiss­Foun­da­ti­ons Beate Eckardt sees room for growth in the charity sector when it comes to diver­sity – and not just in terms of gender.

‘This coun­try needs new men,’ sang Ina Deter in 1982 (‘Neue Männer braucht das Land’). Forty years ago, women across Europe – inclu­ding in Switz­er­land – made their voices heard with energy and vigour. A lot has chan­ged since then, both in the world of busi­ness and the field of phil­an­thropy. The propor­tion of women serving on the boards of direc­tors of the 100 largest Swiss employ­ers has risen to 23 percent. One in ten mana­gers are now women. For the first time ever, two of Europe’s biggest chari­ta­ble orga­ni­sa­ti­ons, the Euro­pean Foun­da­tion Centre and the Euro­pean Venture Phil­an­thropy Asso­cia­tion, have appoin­ted two women as CEOs: Delphine Mora­lis and Roberta Bosurgi. Germany saw an even grea­ter shift in its tradi­tio­nally conser­va­tive charity sector: for the first time in its history, the Asso­cia­tion of German Foun­da­ti­ons has two women at the helm, with Kirsten Hommel­hoff as Secretary Gene­ral and Frie­de­rike von Bünau as chair of the board. In Switz­er­land, almost a third of all trus­tees are women.

We’re moving in the right direc­tion – but we have a way to go

While these deve­lo­p­ments indi­cate that we are moving in the right direc­tion, they should not obscure the fact that almost a third of all boards of trus­tees in Switz­er­land are made up enti­rely of men – and that diver­sity is not just a question of gender. The more diverse a board of trus­tees is – based on its chari­ta­ble purpose and objec­ti­ves – the grea­ter its poten­tial impact. Chari­ta­ble orga­ni­sa­ti­ons use their work and their funds to shape the future of orga­ni­sa­ti­ons and initia­ti­ves, to set cour­ses and spark debate. They have a direct impact on our society. We need to stay rooted in the now while keeping an eye on the future. A diverse range of diffe­rent perspec­ti­ves can help with this. In addi­tion to questi­ons of gender equality, boards of trus­tees also need to address their profile in terms of age, back­ground, values and experience.

This coun­try needs young trustees

Invol­ving the youn­ger genera­tion – and, in fact, the bene­fi­cia­ries of its services – is some­thing boards of trus­tees appear to struggle with. This conclu­sion emer­ged from an intense discus­sion at the 2019 Schwei­zer Stif­tungs­sym­po­sium in Thun. At the time, only one charity had set itself the stra­te­gic goal of reju­ve­na­ting its commit­tee by appoin­ting at least one digi­tal native. There are many reasons why the projec­ted average age in Swiss chari­ties is so high. The ban on remu­ne­ra­tion for board members – which is still strictly enfor­ced in many cantons – prevents many youn­ger people who are in the middle of their care­ers from taking on a time-consu­ming volun­tary posi­tion. Only very few boards of trus­tees are tack­ling the compo­si­tion and rene­wal of their commit­tees as a stra­te­gic matter and regu­larly adap­ting their skills profile to meet the current chal­len­ges. When it comes to the candi­da­tes, there is a lack of further trai­ning opti­ons, not only for trus­tees in gene­ral, but parti­cu­larly in terms of measu­res aimed at attrac­ting youn­ger people and provi­ding rele­vant cour­ses. Last but not least, the system of co-optation makes it diffi­cult to appoint more diver­si­fied board members. Posi­ti­ons on boards of trus­tees are still very rarely adver­ti­sed. The Swiss Society for the Common Good has clearly demon­stra­ted how fruit­ful this can be, howe­ver. Last year, for the first time in its 150-year history, the orga­ni­sa­tion publicly adver­ti­sed the open posi­tion of chair of the board – and ended up elec­ting 35-year-old Nicola Forster to the position.

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