“It’s 7:15pm and we should bring this meeting to order” is a common statement for a board chair to make - unless that chair position is held by a 9-year-old! Rumor has it that rather than “playing house” like many of her contemporaries across the country, Ilona Dougherty was renowned for playing “Annual General Meeting” instead. And yes, her meetings ran on time and on schedule. Her brother (ex-officio member of all meetings) could not be reached for comment, but we have no reason to doubt the validity of this statement.
From these humble beginnings, this engaging and empowering young woman has gone on to roles on the Canadian Environmental Youth Caucus, Chair of Youth Work; Canadian delegate to the United Nations and in January 2004, founded Apathy is Boring, a national, non-partisan, charity that leverages art and technology to educate Canada’s young people about democracy. As Executive Director, she recently accompanied former Governor General Michelle Jean on her 2009 state visit to the Ukraine and Norway. Currently, she is the Chair of Volunteer Canada’s board and a board member of Studio 303. She is a recipient of the Yukon Women’s Award: Young Women Leader, and was recently named an Ashoka Fellow.
Recently, I had the pleasure to catch up with Ilona to discuss the role of youth in governance and what charities need to know to engage these bright and tenacious young leaders as part of their boards.
Q: What do young people have to contribute to board leadership and why should charitable boards be paying attention?
A: Young people have access to new technology and bring new perspectives that facilitate creativity and innovation. Organizations, especially in the nonprofit and charitable space need to think in bigger and broader strokes and not in “the way we’ve always done things.” Boards need to understand that young people aren’t just into technology because it’s fun or easy or escapist, but that it gives us accessibility to a process and systems that allow the right voices to come to the table.
Q: What drives your interest at the board table?
A: Doing things well and honestly! Being open and transparent about mistakes so that we can look at failure as feedback and take real steps to learn and improve for the next time. I personally have a real interest in process and how organizations can develop sustainable practices and ultimately deliver real impact. Young people have a curiosity and honesty about what’s not working and possess the ability to admit it, in order to effect change.
Q: What have you learned during your time in leadership roles?
A: It takes a long time to make a difference and you have to be committed to it. Social change is serious business and it doesn’t matter how many doors are open to you; how much power and influence you have access to – relationships are really important and they require time and trust to do anything that matters.
Making sure that young people have a voice at the table has been a lifelong passion for Ilona. She is clearly equipped, capable and engaged in all she takes on. If Ilona Dougherty is a beacon of the generation coming up, take notice! They are not apathetic and they are far from bored or boring – oh, and one more thing – their meetings will always… always, run on time!
Stephen Robinson is Vice-President, Not-For-Profit at Mandrake, a search and human capital consulting firm. He has over 10 years’ experience leading innovation and change in organizational leadership and governance. He works with board and C-level executives to help align strategy with world class talent. Contact him by email for more information.