EVOLVING CHAIR: Reaching Out to Top Blokes
10 June 2014 at 9:17 am
Wollongong City Councillor Michelle Blicavs not only heads an international stakeholder organisation and sits on many boards, she chairs the Top Blokes Foundation – a Not for Profit assisting young men. In the first Evolving Chair column, Blicavs shares her insights into board governance.
The Evolving Chair: Michelle Blicavs has 25 years management experience in public transport, small business and the community sector. She is currently CEO of IAP2 Australasia which encourages community and stakeholder engagement across all sectors both public and private.
She also sits on many boards and is currently the Chair of Top Blokes Foundation, as well as a Trustee Director with Australian Christian Superannuation and Local Government Superannuation. Blicavs was elected as a Councillor on Wollongong City Council in 2011 and is a member of the Council’s Audit Committee, Economic Development Board and the City Centre Committee.
What is your organisation and what is the board structure?
To address issues of anti-social, risk taking behaviour and community disengagement of young men, the Top Blokes Foundation, based in Wollongong, NSW directly empowers at risk and emerging young male potential leaders aged 14-24 years to positively contribute to their local community.
By implementing three program themes; 1) youth empowerment, 2) skills-development and 3) resilience programs. The Top Blokes Foundation fosters young men’s social inclusion, emotional and social resilience and improves their mental health and wellbeing. Our programs constitute an affirmative platform for young males to employ positive decision making skills, become positive role models to their peers and adopt healthier lifestyle choices while developing personal qualities of integrity, character and respect for others.
The Top Blokes Foundation is a youth-led organisation that address issues of anti-social, risk taking behaviour and community disengagement of young men aged 14-24. We challenge, inspire and grow young men to make positive decisions when confronted in risky and high pressure social situations.
Top Blokes Foundation outreaches to over 1000 young men each year through their peer mentoring, community leadership and suicide prevention programs in high schools, other not for profits and tertiary education centres.
Our Board is made up of local business people with skill sets ranging from legal, education, community, operational, finance and each has a strong governance focus.
What attracts you to a Not for Profit or for-profit board?
I’m attracted to Board’s because of the values of the organisation and how they align to my own values. I sit on a number of boards, and all are NFP, though I would be open to a for-profit board with the right value proposition.
What is the biggest challenge your board has had to overcome?
Top Blokes Foundation is reliant on grants and donations as we receive no government funding. This has been and remains our biggest challenge. We are one of the only organisations that focus on young men and teenage boys and that limits the funding opportunities.
We are seeking to build a sustainable business and expand throughout our state and across Australia. But it is difficult for a small foundation to attract large corporate partnerships without the big known name.
We have had significant success in the Illawarra Region and the Board continues to look for sustained support to expand to see the lives of young men changed and their opportunities expanded in our nation.
Is gender balance an issue for your board?
Interestingly for an organisation focused on young men, we are led by women.
Our Board has an even mix of men and women and we don’t select board members based on their gender.
We are more interested in ensuring we have the right skill-sets and passion in the directors to achieve our goals.
What is your board’s ultimate goal?
Sustainability and Expansion. We started as a volunteer organisation. In recent years, we have taken on employees and we want to expand this to ensure young men have access to positive role models and youth workers.
We have been in a dozen high schools, but there has been quite a demand for our school peer-mentoring program Junior Top Blokes.
We’d like to meet the demand by taking the program to every regional high school in New South Wales and across Australia. We are seeking a partner to join us and fund the critical vision to see young men become top blokes and become all they can be. This can only be done when we tackle the difficult social issues in an effective and meaningful way for boys.
What has been the highlight of your work with this board?
The direction of the organisation has changed significantly during my term on the board.
Originally I came on the board following our partnership as a beneficiary of funds raised by Top Blokes to support a homeless charity I managed. Since then, Top Blokes has moved from a recognition of Top Blokes in the community to training men to become Top Blokes within the community.
We have moved from an operational board to a strategic governance board and that shows real growth which is a real highlight from a board perspective. But our work with the young men, and the lives changed is by far the most rewarding part of being Chair of this Board.
What are the key sector issues that are being discussed at board level?
Fundraising and sponsorship continue to be of focus, particularly as government funding declines, the competition for corporate funding will increase.
Does your board believe collaboration between organisations within your area is important?
Absolutely. We work with a number of other charities and groups in our region. We teach young men that they don’t have to do it alone and as a board we seek to build effective collaborative partnerships to help achieve both of our goals.
Do you have any advice around governance?
Stay out of the operations! Hire good people and trust them to do their job. Ensure good reporting and work with your CEO to achieve good reporting for your board. As Chair, allow your directors to be actively involved and contribute in meetings.
Do you have any advice around recruitment?
Hire good people, coach them to success, and don’t be afraid to let them go if the fit is not right.
Do you have any advice around risk management?
Know your risk appetite. In the NFP world we have to take risks – calculated risks. Understand the best and worse case scenarios and own your decisions.
Do you have any advice around mergers?
Know when it’s time to get out – or merge to make a better organisation. Successful organisations are agile and can change to meet their changing environment. If that means joining with another like-minded group of people will achieve your goals, do it! But the value proposition must sit well.
Do you have any advice on board members raising money?
Often we are on boards because of our connections and the contribution we can bring to organisation through those connections. But ultimately it’s about the value proposition.
If you believe in your organisation and its values and goals then you won’t have any trouble promoting it to others and helping raise the much needed funds. If that’s a struggle for you then maybe you’re on the wrong board.
Do you have any advice around the Board’s relationship with the Chief Executive Officer?
Let the CEO do their job. Be there to provide support and help when asked.
Make sure you have strong reporting and ensure your CEO provides you with the information you need to make the right decision. If you don’t have that information, defer the decision.
There can be a fine line for the Chair and the CEO when working together. Monitor and support, but don’t dictate.
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