As WCVA looks to recruit a new Chair, Peter Davies looks back on his experience and gives some key considerations for the future of the sector
I am stepping down as chair of WCVA next year after 11 years on the Board and eight years as chair. We have already started the recruitment process in order to ensure a smooth transition of new leadership of the Board.
So, I thought it timely and helpful to share some thoughts on the experience for potential candidates.
LOOKING BACK TO LOOK FORWARD
First and foremost, it has been a really enjoyable experience and I will really miss working with Ruth, the staff team and fellow trustees. It is a great staff team and trustee Board, responsible for an organisation which plays a really important national role in ensuring voluntary groups and volunteering thrive across Wales.
WCVA has played a big part in my life since returning home to Wales in 2005. I had been a trustee of NCVO while Managing Director at Business in the Community, so an introduction from Stuart Etherington to Graham Benfield led to a pro bono review as my first “job” back in Wales. This was followed by coordinating the WCVA convened Millennium Development Task Group, which established the Wales-Africa Community link scheme (now part of Wales and Africa) and the Size of Wales. I was then co-opted onto the Board in 2011 – the start of an 11-year governance journey.
It began with a Board of 35 people designed to be representative of the sector with a Chairman’s committee to oversee the detail all expertly led by Win Griffiths as Chair. Win’s retirement led to my appointment as Chair and the beginning of a change process with the retirement of Graham as CEO along with 3 other senior management colleagues – a team that had guided the organisation for the previous 25 years or more.
The first and most important part of the change was the appointment of Ruth Marks as CEO. My replacement will have an experienced, highly respected and connected CEO, who is a joy to work with as a Chair. The second was to complete a review that focused the Board on its governance, rather than representative function. We now have a Board of 12, elected by WCVA members and with the option of 4 appointed places. The democratic process leads to accountability, brings in fresh views, but does also sometimes means we lose great trustees before their time. My replacement will have an outstanding Board of trustees, who have worked well as a team, bringing fun to the governance responsibilities.
A STRONG FRAMEWORK
As Chair I have borrowed the 5 Ss as a governance framework making sure we provide effective scrutiny, ensure long term stewardship, engage in shaping strategy, offer support to the staff and also make sure there is some stretch in performance (Ruth always says the latter is my favourite!). Trustees have engaged through sub committees, chairing grant panels, taking leads on priority themes etc, all brilliantly enabled and supported by Tracey Lewis – the best possible company secretary!
We are about to start the next phase with a refreshed forward strategy for the next 5 years, taking learnings from the pandemic and engagement with the sector on future priorities. The timely sale of Baltic House, a building that required significant refurbishment, not only secured investment for the long term, but also means we can adopt more flexible working arrangements as we move to more suitable, new office accommodation in One Canal Parade, alongside WLGA, Data Cymru and the National Lottery Community Fund.
CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
Of course, there are challenges ahead. We have been rightly proud to be the only UK non-government body to have Intermediate Body status for distribution of EU programme funds, demonstrating our effectiveness in managing the allocation of resources to where it is most needed. However, this role comes to an end in 2023 and there remains uncertainty over replacement funds for the sector. We must ensure closer partnerships across sectors, which have been forged by the pandemic now become embedded with the voluntary sector as an equal partner. The climate and nature crisis, digital developments, inequalities and the health and social care crisis demand a scale and change of pace beyond what we have achieved to date.
We need to come together as a voluntary sector to make a bigger difference by delivering that scale and pace. We have a strong platform with our County Voluntary Council partners in Third Sector Support Wales, connecting local and national networks leading change across Wales.
My role as Chair will come to an end at the AGM next year, but with the process of recruitment of a new chair already underway I look forward to working closely with my successor to ensure we are in a strong position to meet those challenges over the next five years and beyond.