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Dondo Mogajane | How young South Africans can excel in boardroom positions


Dondo Mogajane | How young South Africans can excel in boardroom positions
22-04-24 / Dondo Mogajane

Dondo Mogajane | How young South Africans can excel in boardroom positions

The defining characteristic of today's business landscape is change, as organisations grapple with technological change, climate change, and changes in the composition and needs of modern workforces and markets. Against this backdrop, organisations must embrace change at a leadership level by encouraging more young people to take their seat at the table in boardrooms and help steer organisations in exciting new directions.
As digital natives, the inputs of younger generations are essential as we grapple with the practical and ethical implications of technologies such as AI, or risks such as cybercrime. Likewise, younger generation can lend new energy and passion to discussions surrounding environmental, social, and governance (ESG) concerns, and especially environmental responsibility, helping to place these issues at the forefront of strategies.
Additionally, as organisational stewards, the success of Boards of Directors is dependent upon their objectivity, impartiality, and ability to think critically. As such, it is critical to break older generation's monopoly, allowing young people to cut their teeth at the boardroom table and lend their contributions, while learning from the experience of older generations.
The benefit for youth, of course, is that every year spent as a board member has been described as a mini-MBA. Boards are entrusted with vital duties and responsibilities such as evaluating financial performance and signing off on financial reports, safeguarding the interests of all shareholders and investors, monitoring compliance with all relevant laws and regulations, guiding strategic decision-making, assisting in policy-making, and holding management accountable.
Throughout my own career, for example, I've had the privilege of serving on several boards, including the World Bank, where I participated in the governance and administration, and budget committees. I've also served on the board of the New Development Bank, and am currently involved with the Government Employees Pension Fund and a few others.
These experiences have equipped me with a deep understanding of international markets and global economic dynamics, in addition to allowing me to contribute my skills to a numerous vital projects and institutions.
During my time at the World Bank, for instance, I represented the interests of 22 African companies. As part of this work, it was crucial to understand the origins and context of proposals to advocate for them effectively, which required building relationships with leaders and ministers from those countries to better understand their needs and concerns.
One notable example is my involvement with Eskom, where I was involved in securing $3.75 billion in funding from the World Bank in 2008. Understanding its strategy, environmental impacts, and societal implications was essential in advocating for this funding, especially amidst growing international concerns about renewable energy.
Similarly, at the New Development Bank, it was critical to manage the dynamics of BRICS countries, addressing challenges such as Russia's role and international relations within the group.
In other words, the role of a board member can be difficult, complex, and time-consuming, but offers unprecedented opportunities for professional development and career growth.
So, what is required and how can young people become board members?

1. Develop your value proposition

Skills and knowledge are important, but experience counts even more. Academic qualifications alone do not qualify a person for board membership, although they may provide good grounding in areas of vital technical expertise such as finance, law, business, or other relevant areas.
However, there's no shortcut to success. In addition to studying and learning, you need the knowledge and experience that can only be gained on the streets, or in real-world environments and situations. It's this experience that will allow you to know the right questions to ask as a board member, or to identify when management may be overstating a company's financial performance.
Build a solid professional foundation, and don't rush or become impatient. Allow yourself the time to develop a speciality or functional expertise. In the meantime, the willingness to ask questions and learn, and being humble enough to seek guidance and mentorship will impress those around you.

2. Establish your credibility and grow your professional network

Becoming a board member is not about what you know or who you know; it's about both.
To build your reputation, actively seek opportunities within organisational committees, or volunteer to serve on the board of non-profit companies. Attending networking events, accepting speaking opportunities, and joining professional associations may also help raise your public profile and reputation, and, even more critically, connect you with other professionals.
Board positions are not always advertised, which means that networking is often the key to securing roles. Remember that board members are not able to dictate new appointments, but they can recommend or nominate candidates.
The ability to network, nurture relationships, and forge connections is critical for effective board membership. Serving on a board requires members to engage in respectful debate with colleagues, to collaborate and build consensus, and to communicate successfully – all skills which are reflected in the strength of your network. 
In closing, I would encourage all board members and organisational leaders to mentor young individuals who show potential. As we navigate an environment in flux, we need to develop the leaders of tomorrow even as we shape the organisations of tomorrow. Simultaneously, its time for young people to raise their hands and demonstrate their interest in taking up the mantle, seizing opportunities to grow.

*Dondo Mogajane is CEO of the Moti Group and Chairperson of numerous boards.

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