A common challenge for all Indigenous corporations is succession planning, or more specifically developing the next generation of community leaders. This arises because current leaders, who have led a 20 plus year campaign for native title rights, are getting older, many want a different role for example mentoring rather than leading, and they recognise the energy and enthusiasm new members bring.
Furthermore, many current leaders recognise the insights these members bring to the challenges and aspirations of younger community members.
A response to this succession planning challenge from many organisations is to set up a Youth Council. This concept has many variations, but all seek to train a group of young people in the foundations of trust/corporate responsibilities and at the same time expose them to the decision-making challenges that real boards face so that they will progress to a role on the Board or Trust.
In order to give these roles, the appropriate amount of credibility they are usually:
In addition, the Youth Council is usually given substantive matters to address, with recommendations proceeding to the relevant Board or Trustee for consideration and if thought fit endorsement. This process gives the Youth Council an opportunity to “make a difference” especially in areas relating to youth matters including education, health, wellbeing and employment, where they provide recent personal insights.
Youth Councils are a great initiative and done well should, over the long term, produce positive outcomes for both the individual and the community. In my experience of developing leadership pipelines, the expected time horizon for new leaders to emerge is 5 to 7 years. The key point here is to set the right expectations, there is no quick fix. Secondly, given these time lines, communities must not leave it until the older members retire before considering who will replace them.
In addition, it is important that the objectives of this program are not narrowly focussed and limited in the measures of success. If success is only measured in the number of youngsters who progress to a Board role in community organisations this misses the much wider opportunities this program provides including:
The points made above underline the need to set the program up properly from the outset. More specifically this should include documenting:
The importance of getting the right people on the program can’t be overstated. They need to be there because they are prepared to put in the time and effort to learn and implement a new set of skills.
I also see merit in Youth Councils meeting other Youth Councils to share learnings, make new contacts and develop initiatives that might have a broader application than just a single community.
My final important reflection is that once the younger members have the skills and feel confident to take on more responsibility they need to be encouraged and supported in these new roles. Older members play a critical role here in granting them the permissions that are necessary for them to speak and for their opinions to be heard and valued.
I hope this paper sparks a conversation on the broader topic of succession planning and the successful ways in which organisations are addressing this challenge.