I am honoured to be a part of Board Voice and immensely grateful for the experience of working with some wonderful people to create something new, generative and forward looking.
Have you ever had that experience of talking to someone and then you see in their face that they just got hold of a big thought and were carried away….Well, I had that experience back in 2008 after the very first public meeting for board members where we explored the idea of bringing boards together somehow. People were milling around and talking. I got involved in an intense conversation with Anthony Ostler, the then chair of Family Services of Greater Vancouver board, about the community agencies and the value of their work and the roles that boards have to play. And Anthony said, and this is when his face lit up, he said, “Yeah, these agencies are a very important part of the fabric of our communities. Where would we be without them?” He went on to reflect on the role of board members and how they needed to get involved –and in that moment I knew two things. I knew that the idea of Board Voice could move from the realm of ‘wouldn’t be interesting’….to ‘this can happen.’ I also knew that we had found the leader to take the idea forward.
Anthony agreed to become the leader of what we called the Leadership Group, but only if Carol Matusicky (his angel and mine) would be the co-chair, and the two of them along with group of 10 others, spent a year designing what would become the Board Voice Society of BC in November of 2009. How many of you in the room were here for that founding conference?
So Michael and Carol carried on as Chair and vice chair of the new board and Board Voice entered the mainstream of BC public affairs. We set out plans and began to focus our strategic directions towards bringing the social determinants of health into focus in the province. We talked to ministers and bureaucrats and spoke up for the value to our communities of community social services.
From our earliest days we’ve spoken out publically on issues such as budget cuts, wages for sector employees, HST, Healthcare Benefit Trust, changes to the Criminal code, and even the long form census.
Here’s Anthony from an Op-ed in the Victoria Times Colonist in January 2010 on community mental health cuts and the social determinants of health:
“Any “savings” realized by cutting preventive community programs will last only as long as it takes for the person dependent on that support to fall through the cracks and require more critical care. The health authorities must know that they’re acting in complete disregard of the social determinants of health, and pushing costs even higher in the long term.”
We also engaged with the Government Non Profit Initiative and made submissions to the Select Standing Committee on the Budget and the B.C Council for Social Entrepreneurship.
Here’s Board Voice Chair, Dave Stigant in a submission to the Council in February 2012:
“While the report acknowledges that there are “wicked problems” and suggests a mechanism to have conversations to try to address them (Change Labs), it does not acknowledge the ‘difficult conversations’ that could lead to both innovations and a differential use of resources. These conversations are often avoided because of their political volatility, but nonetheless, must be addressed. Examples of these issues are drug policy and end-of-life policies. In fact, the whole area of social policy as a focus for social innovation is not addressed in the report except as it pertains to new funding mechanisms.”
In parallel with these provincial level activities, Board Voice wanted boards to come together in their communities to create new relationships and social capital, and to create possibilities for collaborative activities between their organizations. We believed then and now, that Board Voice needed to be entrenched in communities.
Shortly after that first Board Voice conference in 2010, I received an email from one of the conference goers from Duncan, our current Vice Chair, Leslie Welin, saying that she was interested in pulling board members together in her community to talk about some of their concerns. It took her many months working with a small group of board members to organise that first meeting which has blossomed over four years into a creative and generative group in the Cowichan Valley. There is much that can be achieved by boards coming together in community.
You know, over the past week or so, we have been interviewing applicants for my replacement. (You will be well served by Tanis Dagert (from Nanaimo) who is here tonight and hopes to meet many of you. You will be in good hands!!!)
One of the questions we asked the applicants, was about the issues of managing a membership organization and without exception, they suggested that any organization has to pay attention to the value proposition. What do you get for your Board Voice membership fee?
It’s a complicated answer for Board Voice. What’s the value of directing our voice towards needed change in our society?
What is the value of the conversation we have been leading in the province on the social policy framework over the past year?
What’s the value of board members coming together to organize a project to train, attract and retain young people to their boards of directors like they did in Prince George and Victoria?
What’s the value of board members coming together in this forum to think together and talk to each other?
What’s the value of a Leslie Welin putting her hand up in an empty sky and seeing who she can engage in a conversation that matters?
The idea behind Board Voice – that it is valuable to organize a very particular set of volunteers – board governors – to work together on behalf of their communities and the services that support our families and neighbours – this was a big idea.
Board Voice has become a vehicle for boards and board members to take leadership locally and provincially – knowing that you have a network of friends and supporters around the province cheering you on. And it’s highly decentralized – wherever a member resides, Board Voice is there.
An editorial in the very first Board Voice Newsletter, December 2010, said this:
“There are thousands of us across the province – volunteer board members – governors actually, sitting around countless board tables making decisions about social services that affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of British Columbians every day. Together we form a layer of governance, one widely decentralized and incredibly important to the health and well-being of our communities. And yet, our impact is barely noticed at the provincial level.”
Well that was then. It might interest you to know, that in a provincial survey recently undertaken by Social Planning and Research Council of BC, Board Voice was one of the most recognizable social service organizations in the province. So, that’s pretty interesting. I believe now that we are at the end of the beginning.
Before I step down, I want to acknowledge all of you who have been involved with Board Voice – all our members – The Federation of Community Social Services, critical to providing the incubator from which Board Voice emerged; The Vancouver Foundation and other funders who have nourished us over the years; A number of our member boards and executive directors have been particularly supportive and I would like to acknowledge all of you. You know who you are.
Most especially, I want to acknowledge and to thank all members of the Board Voice board of directors over the last five years, people like Craig East our Treasurer, who brings his passion to the table and keeps this organization on the straight and narrow and Lyn Policha who got him involved in the first place and who’s leaving the board this year. You will be missed Lyn. And of course the board chairs, Anthony Ostler, Dave Stigant, Carol Matusicky and our current chair, Michael Davis who have all contributed so much to this enterprise.
In Michael Davis you have a guy who has invested a huge amount of his personal time, energy and talent over the past two years to modernize our communications and lead Board Voice in some very significant initiatives. With Michael at the helm, I know that the organization will thrive going forward.
Board Voice has all the potential in the world. I leave confident that it will become an ever more valuable player in the public affairs of this province.
Thank you my friends. It has been a pleasure.