Focus: Finance and Governance - Trustee talk - Gill Putnam, Harvest Help

Our way of working is to ask the very poor to take risks - to try out new crops, such as wheat instead of maize, to invest their very small savings in their own community banks, to start up businesses of their own.

Four years ago, when I became a trustee, Harvest Help worked in one country. Now we work in four African countries. Our turnover has tripled, but we are still sowing the seeds of self-reliance in rural Africa.

This requires strength and continuity from us in finding and financing people to whom our beneficiaries can come for technical advice. We offer support for a few years until the community doesn't need us any more.

This means that we have to take risks - choosing new local partners, venturing into new geographical areas, testing out new ways of raising funds. It is critical that all these risks are considered carefully.

The Charity Commission requires us to do this, of course - the Sorp requires trustees to sign a statement on the annual return, confirming that they have identified and reviewed the risks to which the charity is exposed and have put in place systems to mitigate these risks.

I'm a lawyer by profession,so I keep abreast of changes in the law and make sure the trustees know about them.

But it is not just a matter of complying with the regulations. We build up our beneficiaries to become self-reliant; the onus is on us to make sure we don't ask them to take risks and then fail them before they have reaped the benefit of those risks.

We must know our business well enough to be able to predict and survive foreseeable difficulties - well enough so that we do not let our beneficiaries down when they have risked so much themselves.

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