Govern Update - 2021 June

What the 2021 UnConference Revealed... 

By: Athens Kolias

As times change, so must we all try new things! For the Govern for Impact community, it was the UnConference event on May 13th. The UnConference format, also known as an Open Forum Space (, is an unstructured facilitate space where attendees can explore top of mind topics with each other. We had great minds represented from around the globe, including the Netherlands, Bangladesh, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.  In this environment, truly interactive discussions meander from mind to mind and from room to room. To create some focus, the UnConference was segmented into three breakout rooms, each focused on a started topic. Here's what happened:

Before the Breakouts

After everyone settled in, attendees viewed a pre-recorded message from Annette Thomas, a young professional who recently joined a board. She described why she decided to join her board and all the resulting benefits. She urges young professionals to make an impact by serving on a board with like-minded visionaries. Annette says that "board service" sharpens an employer's interest in a candidate. Attendees made several comments about how inspirational this message was! Thank you, Annette for sharing your ideas and making an impact!

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG):

Now let's step into the ESG room. Ready to discuss Environmental, Social, and Governance concerns were facilitators Tom Keyes and Greggory Cates. Attendees told us they most anticipated the Social and Governance topics, while they learned more than they expected about Environmental concerns. Here's Tom's recap:

  "We began our discussion by noting that while environmental, social, and governance (ESG) concerns have unique aspects, it may be unwise to explore them in silos because together they form an integrated value proposition. For example, an organization may identify an environmental goal, but it cannot realistically evaluate it without considering potential social (e.g., impact on employees/volunteers/community members) and governance (e.g., increased monitoring responsibilities and costs) concerns. Participants share real-world challenges, particularly from the educational sector, and we briefly explored how ESG goals might be reflected in the "at what cost or relative priority" of Ends statements. We discussed how COVID-19 compelled organizations to address social concerns related to health and safety and learned of one organization's efforts to re-examine all of its policies through a diversity, equity, and including (DEI) lens. Resulting changes were woven throughout all categories of purpose and process policies, reinforcing our initial discussion point about the integrated value of ESG pursuits (which embody DEI concerns)." 

These are such important topics. Watch for Govern's continuing ESG conversations coming out soon at our June 17-19, 2021 Conference (to check out the conference or to register, click here). Speaking of the future, let's see how Board's of the future can look. 

Board Composition:

Lindsay Grillet and Athens Kolias stood ready to discuss how diversity, equity, and inclusion issues affect the composition of Boards. Naturally, such diverse factors as race, ethnicity, and industry knowledge came up, and so did ageism and diversity of perspectives. As the conversation developed, questions arose:

  • What is the Board's role in achieving social equity and social justice?
  • How can someone learn about the path toward becoming a board member?
  • Is that information even available anywhere?
While the lack of clarity about joining a board seemed exclusionary, the conversation looked at the Board's role in searching for new members. It was agreed that the board has a responsibility to search beyond existing networks to attract new board members with divers perspectives. Ensuring diversity is much more that a written policy stating: "not more than x% of the Board's composition shall be from any one demographic group". This style of policy, while an improvement, risks introducing the "check the box" mentality rather than the deep understanding of the diversity and value each individual who comes to the table.
Boards must take a much more active role in defining the criteria that makes a great addition to their board from a broader pool of diverse persons, but once they are onboarded the Board must also ensure that their voice is not only included but sought out. It was agreed that this requires culture change from the top down and all throughout.
So, let's listen to the voices of the Future...
Future Focus: 
In this room, one of Govern's Young Professionals, Martin Cruz, facilitate a look into the future. Participants challenged us to define the difference we need to have made 10 or more years from now. They said it is critical not only to define that vision but also to hold it up as the basis for all decisions made in the organization.
Participants indicated that it is the boards responsibility to maintain a future focus, while keeping a pulse on the world's increasingly volatile changes. At the same time, the board must continuously validate that their written policies still hold up to changing contexts. Here are some of the comments made:
  • The Board must maintain a mindset of continuous learning
  • Validate your relevance by looking at the future, the market, and benchmarks in your industry
  • Use the tools that Policy Governance provides, such as Ownership-Linkage and Environmental Scanning
  • More focus on board information sessions on the changing context
  • Scan the environment for trends, changes, and shifts
  • Greater diversity. Does the board reflect the community or organization it serves?
  • Emphasis on issues of equity!
  • Constant re-assessment of relevance of the Ends
As you can see, some of today's pressing social issues carried across from room to room at the UnConference. Just as ESG should not be looked at in silos, neither should a board's composition or its focus on the future and the impact its organization have. All are intertwined parts of an integrated system of governance.
Overall Feedback:
Throughout the UnConference we asked questions in the form of Polls and open Chats. Here are some of our findings that we thought you would appreciate seeing.
  • While 65% or respondents rate the UnConference between 8 and 10 on the scale of learning effectiveness, 70% said they would carry their learning into their work and lives!
  • We asked participants what level of confidence they felt in discussing these topics outside of the event. Their responses ranged. The highest confidence levels were seen in the Board Composition, Future Focus, and ESG: Governance topics. Following close behind were ESG: Social and ESG: Environmental topics.
Are there other topics you want to know more about? 
Difficult question on topics. I wouldn't have thought of these questions but found them very interesting. 

Definitely a deeper dive into ESG and At What Worth
Executive committees, their use and abuse, what factors should a board consider?  Struggling with finding the right balance of monitoring data
I'd like to know where and how the PG model is evolving. How broadly is it being deployed?  The board nomination process, and the path to Board Service
How do you define "Worth" when looking at "What results, for Whom, at What Worth?"  I like the idea of having topics 'outside' of regular PG concepts. PG tends to come back into the conversation anyway. 
Policy Governance is so flexible and relevant to the future- good to always stress test this  
What topics would you like to learn more about? Tell us with an email to: [email protected].
What was your favorite part of the rooms(s) you were in?
  • The quality of discussion                                 
  • Open discussion
  • High-quality of questions and responses
  • Opportunity for questions
  • Quality of discussion was terrific. Thoughtful. 
  • Learning from each other
  • Discussion flexibility
  • Inclusion of more perspectives than in a traditional conference
  • Great facilitation
  • Like being able to drop in on interesting conversations
  • Hearing different experiences
  • Being able to explore opposing perspectives in a respectful environment
  • Meeting new people
  • Hearing from a variety of different organizations 
  • Conversation went where folks wanted it to go
  • Good to hear peoples' informal questions and ideas. Thank you.
  • I loved having new faces and perspective
  • I like when people keep their video on, it helps with engagement
  • Interesting resource people
  • Discussion reiterated for me the value of Policy Governance when working on environmental and social issues. 
Doesn't it sound like everyone had a great time? They did! In fact, we had a hard time getting the folks in the ESG room to return to the main session! Don't you want to join us for our next UnConference? Watch our website and social media for announcements on upcoming UnConference events. Join Govern for Impact in their upcoming Conference, June 17 - 19, 2021 for amazing governance related topics and speakers.
Before we go...
Before we start planning our next UnConference, we must thank and congratulate all the people! 
  • Thank you to all our wonderful and knowledgeable facilitators: Ted Humphrey, Annette Thomas, Tome Keyes, and Greggory Cates, Athens Kolias and Lindsay Grillet, Martin Cruz, and Kat BonDurant. 
  • Participants in the Future Focus room particularly gave Martin high marks for his contributions! 
  • Congratulations to the winners of the Secret Word contests: Tania Brzovic, Jeanne Collins, William Frater, Jeff Holm. The secret words were: Oversight, Monitoring, Inclusivity, Outreach, Vision and Scanning. 
  • Congratulations to the winner of the random drawing for a seat at the Annual Conference: William Frater from South Africa! We'll see you on June 17-19! 
  • Most of all, Thank you to all those who attended and made the UnConference great! 
We look forward to continuing these critical conversations with you at the Annual Conference on June 17-19th. Don't forget to register to attend!  Looking forward to seeing you there!