Trustee talk: Monitoring performance and risk

Brian Ridsdale, trustee of Christian Aid, tells Stephen Morris how he sees his role.

I first saw the appeals in the press in the late 60s. I can't remember where Christian Aid was working - Africa, I think - but the situation it faced was clearly desperate, so I decided to send some money.

I have been an enthusiastic supporter ever since, collecting and helping with events. I'm now the local organiser for my village, Chandlers Ford in Hampshire.

In 1999, when I was head of Zurich Life in the UK, I volunteered to help Christian Aid with supporter relations. Two years later, I went to Ghana to see where the money was going. It was an inspirational experience. Our partners were teaching women how to calculate profit margins and turn butter-making into a profitable business. With a bit of money and education, they were taking control of their lives and overcoming gender prejudice. We were also teaching young people clothes-making, carpentry and Aids awareness.

There was a big shake-up at Christian Aid three years ago. Until then, we'd had a board of 41 trustees from our sponsoring churches. But the charity's work had grown in coverage and complexity and it was decided that we needed a new board. Just 20 trustees were appointed. I was one.

We're lucky enough to have trustees from all over the UK, but their distinguishing feature is competence. I see it in the six new trustees we've just appointed, who are all leaders in their fields.

It can be hard to adapt from managing to governing, but we've got a really good induction programme and together we'll do what a good board should do - monitor performance and manage risk. Not everyone is informed by faith, but we're driven by the ideals of the charity, which are giving and caring.

I'm an actuary, so managing risk is close to my heart. As a board, we look for effective risk management. But we're all enthusiasts too, and we learn a lot from the staff. I recently joined a review of our campaign for economic justice. I was fascinated. We have an incredibly enthusiastic and professional team, which was amazing to see.

It's a fantastic time to be a trustee. Christian Aid supports grass-roots movements and takes on big issues - for the past year we've been leading on climate change. We want justice for the poor and we want to expose poverty as the scandal it is. We've got an awfully long way to go.

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