Heather Saville, New South Wales Regional Meeting
Many of us have acted as representatives of Australia Yearly Meeting on various arms of the National Council of Churches over the years, including its international aid and development agency, Act for Peace.
As its website tells us, Act for Peace came into being in 1948 with the sending of food and other provisions to help refugees and internally displaced people who suffered during World War II. Its Christmas Bowl began on Christmas Day 1949 and since then the agency has expanded to help communities affected by poverty and conflict in over 130 countries. Its purpose “is to empower passionate people to work together to strengthen the safety, justice and dignity for communities threatened by conflict and disaster”. Something with which all Quakers should be able to identify.
Until very recently Act for Peace was structured as a Commission under the auspices of the NCCA, and member churches nominated representatives to sit on the Commission. Sieneke Martin and, before her Jackie Perkins, had served as the most recent Quaker commissioners. I was appointed to act in this role three years ago.
It has been a busy three years, which have included the resignation of the previous CEO, accreditation of Act for Peace for a further five years by the Department of Foreign Affairs, the recruitment of a new CEO, and the conversion of the organisation into a company limited by guarantee with the NCCA being its one share-holder. This has meant that the Commission has ceased to exist and Act for Peace is now governed by a board of directors, of whom I am one.
The role of the board is considerably more demanding than that of the old commission, not least because for the last year there have only been 6 of us (in fact, for a variety of reasons, since early 2018 there have only been 5) rather than the 14 or so commissioners. Preparation for accreditation, which was completed in early 2017, was a huge task particularly for the staff but also for the directors.
Act for Peace (the company) is due to hold its first Annual General Meeting in November 2018 and I have confirmed that I intend to step down as a director. I indicated my intention to do this to the YM Nominations Committee earlier this year. I explained then that the newly established Act for Peace board brings with it changes to how directors are appointed. Rather than being nominated as a representative of their church, individuals need to indicate their interest in being considered as a non-executive director of the organisation, make formal application setting out their background and relevant skills and undertake an interview.
A nominations committee was formed and advertised widely seeking expressions of interest through the Act for Peace website, the member churches of NCCA and other avenues. This resulted in a substantial number of applications being received and the Company Secretary prepared a short list for interview based on the skills set that the board had already determined was needed by Act for Peace. A list of five names will go forward to the Annual General Meeting. Sadly, for the first time in many years it will not include a Quaker name, not because we don’t have relevant experience or knowledge, we do, but often we are already too busy elsewhere to take on another role.
Like others before me I have found working with Act for Peace to be a rewarding and worthwhile experience and leave with some reluctance. However, the role of a board director with Act for Peace today carries with it considerable time commitments and real governance responsibility. It should not be undertaken lightly. That said, the work of the organisation is splendid and the staff wonderful. I would urge other (younger?) Friends to consider applying next year.