The role of ‘non’ students in a proudly student-run organisation

Just over two years ago I joined our CDI Board of Trustees. I had just started a job as a Management Consultant and was pleased for an opportunity to continue to work with an organisation I love. I first joined CDI 5 years ago when I applied to be a volunteer with the Entrepreneurship project. And, after quickly falling in love with the ethos of CDI along with Tanzanian culture, I volunteered to lead the team as project director in the following year.

A lot of CDI’s energy and, it’s unique selling point, comes from being a student-run organisation. CDI not only recognises this but is also proud of it – we splatter our banners with it. So what role do I and the other trustees of CDI play?

In most organisations, the Board of Trustees acts as a governing body since it has responsibility for the management of the organization. In CDI, it’s a little different. Our Board, which consists of seven members, seeks to provide guidance and advice, to support our volunteers in their work, and to ensure the long-term sustainability of the organisation. This last point becomes particularly important when your entire workforce is replaced every year!

Out of our trustees, four of us are slightly closer in age to our student volunteers. Patrick and Kelvin (CDI’s two founders), Raj (CDI’s Education Project Director in 2015) and myself. We work closely together in what we call the Junior Board (or ‘Baby Board’ as our Whats-App is labelled). Despite having less wisdom or field experience than the rest of the Board, I like to think we are more in touch with the students and the sequence of the Cambridge terms. We work closely with the Director and the Executive Committee by running training sessions at the start of their tenure, coaching them through the year, and being on call to discuss any pressing issues.

As many directors and committee members have experienced, being in a leadership position within CDI is one of the toughest and most challenging ways to spend your summer months as a student. Whilst your peers reside in air-conditioned investment banks aligning boxes on PowerPoint slides, you are with little to no guidance, leading a team and managing a fully-fledged project in a foreign country on a topic on which you may have limited experience. You are running on goodwill and a common purpose with little or nothing material to give in return to any volunteer, donor or stakeholder. It is without doubt, the toughest challenge I’ve undertaken to date in my career.

For those who volunteer for these positions, there is an enormous personal development journey ahead of them. Without doubt the largest joy of my role as Trustee is being able to watch the incredible development that our committee members and in particular, our directors undergo. I hope that in my role, I can in some way support our committee members in this journey where possible, whether that comes in the form of mentorship, coaching, guidance, advice or simple a poorly worded but well-intentioned pep talk. I am strongly of the belief that one of the largest impacts CDI can have is developing a network of global citizens of its volunteers. If we are able to support volunteer growth and development through a challenging and yet unrivalled experience, then our volunteers will go on to bring more of the ethos of CDI into their future career and where possible share our ethos with others. I therefore hope that CDI forever remains a proudly student-run organisation!

By Georgia Ware, Member of CDI’s Board of Trustees

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