2023 Board Shadowing Programme: Reflections

Smallwood is committed to shifting power in our grant-making, and wanted to do something practical to demonstrate how lived experience expertise brings unique value to our mission of tackling gendered poverty. So, in 2021, we launched our Board Shadowing Programme. After a successful first year, we were pleased to bring Rachel Brown, Jessica Stott, Anjum Sana Syed and Nikki Iyayi to our 2023 cohort and will be announcing our 2024 Board Shadowing Programme in January.

You can learn more about Rachel, Jessica, Anjum and Nikki here.

What was expected from our Board Shadowees?

Similar to the previous year, our Shadowees carried out a number of activities that helped demystify Trustee responsibilities.

Rachel, Jessica, Ajum and Nikki regularly attended Smallwood Board meetings and subcommittees, followed by de-briefings with Trustee Dr Ambreen Shah and/or CEO Paul Carbury. Alongside this, Shadowees had supportive monthly check-ins with Ambreen who spearheaded the programme. It was through these meetings that our Shadowees could learn about the grant-making process, ask questions and supported grant-making decisions alongside our Trustees. 

Outside of regular Board meetings, we had two Whatsapp groups, one for each cohort and one for both cohorts combined, where women could check in with one another, share experiences and information, and send reminders about upcoming meetings or relevant opportunities. Such informal spaces were crucial to maintaining relationships across the Programme. 

All four Shadowees came from different backgrounds and were at different stages in their careers but found they could relate to each others’ experiences and found the group aspect valuable.

What worked?

For the Shadowees

“If others got to see how much Smallwood Trust cares, it would be a light at the end of the tunnel for them…There was a genuine desire [of trustees] to learn – nobody was pandering to tokenism” – Rachel Brown, 2023 Shadowee

The Programme enabled Shadowees to gain a realistic perspective of how Smallwood’s Board operates and were encouraged to bring different, informed viewpoints and analyse complex issues.

One Shadowee reported that the most valuable aspect of the programme was how she felt not only accepted but included and that her opinion matters, offering validation and helping to rebuild her confidence after a difficult life chapter. 

While some Shadowees initially had reservations about the term ‘lived experience’ as they did not want to have to share their personal experiences and relive trauma, these concerns were quickly allayed. They felt they were treated as peers by the Smallwood Trust Board.

For Smallwood

“There can be power imbalances on Boards, which create hesitation in speaking up. In-person meetings quash the notion of hierarchy and show that we are all human.” Faeeza Vaid, Smallwood Trustee

The Board Shadowing Programme goes to the core of Smallwood’s mission as we strive to be a responsive funder to the women’s sector. One of the ways Shadowees were empowered to contribute their viewpoints was through the Grants Panel process in which funding recommendations are brought to the Trustees for decision. 

Our Chair of Trustees reflected that this not only gave them an opportunity to influence, it meant that Smallwood’s own capacity was freed up and whilst ensuring quality as Shadowees already had an insight into the way we make funding decisions. 

The Programme also enabled Smallwood to think about and harness our networks in new ways to support Shadowees with their financial and emotional resilience. For example, one Shadowee benefitted from 121 coaching with our HR consultant which helped in her job search. Another Shadowee is now being mentored by a leader from one of Smallwood’s award-winning Community Grant Partners [hyperlinked]. These connections became invaluable parts of our Shadowees experience of the Programme. 

Are you interested in joining our 2024 cohort?

Due to the positive evaluation of this programme, we will be recruiting a 2024 cohort in the new year!

Motivations for Shadowees joining the programme could include gaining:

  • experience of a Board operating at national level
  • insights into funding and grantmaking for women’s organisations
  • new networks
  • understanding of the charitable sector
  • broader personal development
  •  sense of purpose/positive focus

We will be open for applications early January 2024. You can keep updated on this via our Twitter or website.

To read the full evaluation of our most recent Board Shadowing Programme, please click here

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