My take on the recent spate of resignations from the board of the development aid charity, Goal, from toady’s Evening Herald
When well known and respected organisations start hitting the headlines more for their boardroom machinations than their achievements: then its time to start asking some questions.
This, regrettably, seems to be the case with one of Ireland’s known and most highly regarding international aid and development organisations: Goal. I say Goal, though in the minds of many people It has come to be known as: John O’Shea’s Goal.
Over the years the organisation has developed an enviable record for its tireless work in some of the world’s most dangerous and deprived areas. Much of this reputation has been down to the work of its high profile and out spoken Chief Executive, John O’Shea.
He has given the organisation and its cause a strong voice over the years. He has been fearless in speaking out for people in danger across the world and in reminding us of our responsibilities to those in the third world.
In doing this, John has often rubbed people up the wrong way. Including yours truly. During my time in the Department of Defence I feared his appearances on radio or TV and they would usually involve a call that the Irish government send more troops overseas to some new emerging humanitarian crisis.
I was often tempted to contact him to tell him that sending troops into a country or region to which they had not been invited was technically known in the business as an invasion.
I didn’t, as I knew his calls were a reflection of how highly he views the the skills and commitment of our Defence Force peacekeepers and the work they have done in humanitarian missions across the world.
Nonetheless, the fact that he would still issue such calls in the absence of UN mandates does suggest that he might have a bit of a penchant for rushing headlong into action.
John sees a problem and is compelled to act. Its an admirable trait, but it doesn’t work in every situation. Sometimes you need to heed the calmer voices around you who remind you that there are hurdles to climb before you can get to your goal.
It is not that they urge caution to frustrate your aims, they do so to ensure those aims can be more effectively achieved.
Could this account, in part, for the recent resignations from the board of Goal? Could it help explain why the charity has gone through two very effective and well regarded chairpeople in under a year?
The reasons cited in the media for the recent resignations of Directors Fran Rooney and Ken Fogarty were concerns over “corporate governance”. Though this sounds like a complex subject, in reality it is very straightforward. In plain talk, this means how the organisation is run and who does what.
An experienced administrator from the charitable and voluntary sector once explained “corporate governance” to me as “management proposes, the board decides. Management implements, the board oversees”.
Both sides need to work in partnership, but neither should stray over into the ground of the other. It is a system of checks and balances that ensures best practise and protects both sides. It is especially important in the case of charitable organisations handling and processing millions of Euros per year.
Again, during my time in the Department of Defence, we saw controversy touch the Irish Red Cross when questions of corporate governance were raised. These have been addressed and more robust systems put in place suited to an organisation of its growing size. The organisation did endure some temporary reputational damage, but it also showed it had the capacity to come back and reestablish its reputation. Hopefully, this will prove the case here too.
As any organisation grows and develops, so too must its systems and structures. The system employed by a one man band would not suit the RTE symphony orchestra.
Though they may be cumbersome, these systems and rules are essential to protect those people in the organisation, both paid and voluntary, and to safegaurd the organisation’s goals.
Sometimes you need to stand back to see what it is you wanted to achieve.