How young South Africans can excel in boardroom positions

For the young professional, serving as a board member offers unmatched opportunities for career development and growth. | Freepik

For the young professional, serving as a board member offers unmatched opportunities for career development and growth. | Freepik

Published May 22, 2024


Dondo Mogajane

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.

Benefits of youth

As digital natives, the input of younger generations is essential as we grapple with the practical and ethical implications of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), or risks such as cybercrime.

Likewise, younger generations 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.

In addition, as organisational stewards, the success of boards of directors is dependent on their objectivity, impartiality and ability to think critically. As such, it is critical to break the older generation’s monopoly by allowing young people to cut their teeth at the boardroom table and lend their contributions, while learning from the experience of older generations.

Professional opportunities

The benefit for young professionals, 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 as well as in budget committees. I've also served on the board of the New Development Bank.

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 numerous vital projects and institutions.

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?

Value proposition

The first step would be to 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” - 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.

Credibility and network

Becoming a board member is not about what you know or who you know – it’s about both. So establishing your credibility and building a professional network are vital.

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, will 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 that are reflected in the strength of your network.

I 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, it’s time for young people to raise their hands and demonstrate their interest in taking up the mantle and seizing opportunities to grow.

Mogajane is CEO of the Moti Group and chairperson of numerous boards