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Making Boardrooms Accessible for Young People



By Nelson Opany

In March 2019, I got elected to the Board of Directors of Kanisa Regulated Non-Withdrawable Deposit Taking Savings and Credit Cooperative Society (53rd Non-WDT SACCO in Kenya by the size of total assets) managing a portfolio of close to Sh500 million in total assets belonging to over 3,300 members.

Since then, I have served as Vice Chairperson and am currently in the last year of my three-year term, which got extended by a year due to the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is my second opportunity to sit on a board, with the first having been as National Youth Representative on the Kenya Scouts Association Board between 2012 and 2015.

At 31, I was among the youngest of the nine Directors, and this got me thinking about how many young people of my age or younger have access to opportunities like this to contribute to making major decisions that affect not just them but the lives of thousands and possibly millions of others.

Despite young people making up the world’s biggest demographic group and at least 50 per cent of the workforce, they’re missing out in the boardrooms. These reports suggest that the low numbers of young people on boards may be due to greater scrutiny of younger director candidates and their dismissal as inexperienced, unpracticed or unseasoned. Young people, however, bring fresh perspectives, ideas, and strategies that are invaluable insights in an increasingly digital world.

Some also attribute their absence in corporate boardrooms to having the wrong mindset about corporate governance or the lack of clarity and focus. Others have been accused of not developing a supportive network to propel them into corporate leadership or the lack of due diligence in finding directorship opportunities that are a good fit and that would allow them to thrive.

It is true that getting on a board is hard work, and takes commitment and focus, and that being on a board requires that one keep up the effort and, certainly, disprove the stereotype that young people are lazy and feel entitled. But does it mean that there aren’t young people with the competencies, skills and attitudes needed to contribute to and drive the corporate agenda? And if they’re there, which I believe they are, how can boardrooms be made more accessible for them to play their part in the decision-making? What potential impact could their involvement have on organizational performance?

Organizations across all sectors need to show stronger commitment to board diversity and inclusion, particularly through strategies that champion and advance youth participation in decision-making processes including but not limited to executive training programmes for young people to prepare them for board roles. Deliberately creating more opportunities for young people to join boards through youth-friendly policies or expansion of board sizes. Organizations need to consider skills acquired through non-formal education and not just focus on judging the competencies of young people through academic qualifications only. Mentorship and role modelling by more experienced directors would also help to prepare and induct young people into board roles. Involving young people in board committees could be a great way to prepare them for substantive board roles by giving them a space to build their skills while learning how organizations are run.

Organizations that embrace the involvement of young people in corporate governance stand to reap greatly from their knowledge and fresh perspectives that can make services, events, or decisions more relevant, appropriate, and effective. Since they’re more tech-savvy, creative, innovative, and often adopt leadership styles that are more inclusive and collaborative, young people greatly impact an organization’s ability to attract and retain staff and customers (particularly millennials). With a little guidance and mentorship, young people can produce some of the best directors that help organizations into their next phases of innovation, growth and sustainability.

Young people on the other hand need to prepare themselves for these opportunities so that when they come, they’ll be ready to make their mark through effective contributions. This starts with identifying areas of passion that they’d be willing to commit to and contribute to making a difference. Learning about corporate governance and management and finding mentors to walk with them will put them ahead in the race for board recruitment. Building strong professional and social networks are key to building a profile and enhancing access to board recruitment opportunities. Developing own enterprises and initiatives is also a great way to learn hands-on management, develop skills and gain experience in an area of interest.

More than half of the world’s population is under the age of 30. Millennials are the largest generation in the world’s workforce and will soon be the largest investor base. Organizations are feeling the need for more tech-savvy directors to face innovations that could disrupt markets. This is a big opportunity to transform corporate governance.

With the understanding that age diversity and inclusivity significantly affect organizational performance, decision-making, and productivity, organizations need to be more intentional in creating conducive environments that attract and retain young talent on boards, not just from a representational perspective but with the full realization of the great value young people add to corporate governance and decision-making processes.

Nelson Opany is the Vice Chairperson at Kanisa Regulated Non-WDT SACCO Society; Board Chairman at NelBen Foundation; and a Member of the Resource Mobilization and Partnerships Committee of the Public Relations Society of Kenya Council. (

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