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SAPP Blog Forum: Q&A with Preiti Momaya and Maytree DiverseCity onBoard

May 27, 2011

We are delighted to have with us Preiti Momaya, a board member and participant in Maytree’s DiverseCity onBoard program.  Preiti serves on the boards of Toronto’s Nazareth House and several other nonprofit organizations.  She took some time to answer a few questions about her experiences.

DiverseCity onBoard has recently completed a toolkit for organizations that wish to increase diversity on their boards.  Individuals interested in joining DiverseCity onBoard may find more information here and/or contact Cathy Winter at cwinter AT maytree DOT com.  Now, on to our interview with Preiti: 

Why did you decide to sign up for the DiverseCity onBoard program, and where were you appointed?

I was looking for a Board position that would allow me to contribute my time and skills in a meaningful way.  I heard about the DiverseCity onBoard program through a friend and checked the Maytree website to see what it entailed. After completing Maytree’s selection process, I reviewed several Board opportunities on Maytree’s site to search for the one which would be the best ‘fit’ for me in terms of my interest and expertise.  I was attracted to a Board member position at Nazareth House.

Nazareth House is a transitional house that provides a home-like environment for women at risk and their infants. Its Board is a working board where members are also part of a committee that provides direction and support to the Executive Director in several areas.

I was attracted to this opportunity not only because I met the human resources competency that the board required, but also because the organization serves women and infants, an area which is of special interest to me. In addition, I knew my experience as a community college teacher would allow me to assist the organization in shaping its delivery of education and employability programs to its clients.

Currently I am also on the Board of two other organizations:  Wildlands League and Malvern Family Resource Centre.

What has been your experience as a new board member? What has been the highlight of your experience?  And the greatest challenge?

My board experience has broadened my knowledge of the issues faced by women at risk, such as substance abuse, mental health and immigration.

Prior to being on the Board at Nazareth House, these types of issues were very abstract, now they are very real. While I am not involved in the day to day running of the organization, I visit the House for meetings and have met some of our residents. Through our committee meetings, I am aware of some of the challenges the Executive Director faces in the day to day running of the House in providing a supportive and safe environment to our women and their infants.

One highlight of my experience has been to source a free training program in Financial Literacy skills that our in-house counselors could attend and then conduct training sessions for our residents. This training is critical to our residents as it helps residents with basic skills such as how to manage their money, open a bank account and build savings, all of which address the cycle of debt that many find themselves in.

Another highlight of being on Boards has been the opportunity to work with professionals from several different areas of expertise such as finance, environmental engineering, and law.

Since our board members tend to not meet outside of Board meetings, one challenge has been keeping on top of the issues other board or committee members may be working on. I address this by asking questions about the matter at hand at board meetings.

What skills and experience do you bring to the board?

I am a certified Human Resources professional and currently teach courses in Human Resources Management and Health & Safety at a community college. I have experience working in a unionized environment and previous experience managing people in a travel company.

I have used my experience and knowledge of these areas to advise the [Nazareth House] Board on staff-related matters, develop policies, review recruitment practices and training programs.  At Wildlands League, I am currently involved in strengthening our volunteer program and have used my interviewing skills to match potential candidates with the organization’s needs.  In addition, many of my students live in the area served by the Malvern Family Resource Centre, so I am able to bring some of their perspectives to that board.

What impact has serving on a board had on your personal and professional life?

Personally, I am building great relationships with my fellow board members and the ability to contribute makes me feel valued.  When I meet a previous resident of Nazareth House who is living an independent life, working, caring for her child, and becoming self-reliant, it confirms for me that the work I am doing at Nazareth House is worth doing.

I have also been instrumental in bringing in a non-profit organization to assist Nazareth House with the development of its strategic plan. As a result of [that non-profit’s] involvement, the Board is more cohesive and there is a better understanding of each Board member’s role.

Professionally, I am learning more about the types of human resources and health & safety issues that may be more applicable in not-for-profit organizations. For example, Bill 168 requires employers to put in place measures to deal with ‘violence in the workplace’. Some questions I had were in what kind of situations are staff likely to feel unsafe? Is there a policy? Have staff been provided training? The answers to these questions have helped me understand how some organizations are addressing issues related to ‘violence in the workplace’ by being proactive and introducing workplace policies.

I have also gained valuable governance experience since I serve on boards with different governance models, such as working boards and policy boards.

What has been your experience as a new board member?   What are some of the main qualities that you think organizations and public agencies are looking for in potential board members?

As a new board member, my views are sought and respected. I have had the opportunity to take initiative to develop ideas for programs, work with committees and advocate on behalf of the organization. This has been a truly rewarding experience.  I have also found that asking questions has helped me understand issues that may be very new to me.  A good orientation is also very helpful in understanding the organization.

Most organizations look for specific skills and professional expertise. Professionals with good marketing skills and an ability to raise funds are always in demand. However, above and beyond the required skill sets, a very important quality is passion for the cause that the organization promotes.

Do you think that Aboriginal persons, immigrants, or visible minorities bring something unique to boards and commissions?  Do you have specific examples of how your participation or voice as a visible minority has mattered in board or agency discourse?

Yes, I believe there isn’t enough representation of the three groups mentioned above on boards and commissions.  For example, my input was sought when the Board was dealing with a member of the South Asian community. I was able to bring clarity about Hindu traditions and the observation of certain religious practices.

Diverse individuals bring different perspectives to a board, which contributes to wider discussion of issues and leads to better decision-making.

What have you specifically learned through the DiverseCity onBoard program that has been most beneficial to your experience as a new board or commission member?  And is there a space for DiverseCity onBoard members to get together to discuss their experiences?

I have attended training sessions on Finance Fundamentals and Strategic Resource Development through Maytree. These sessions have been very helpful in understanding finance fundamentals and have equipped me with the right questions to ask when reviewing financial statements.  I had little knowledge about effective fundraising strategies and the training session has helped me to engage in fundraising in an effective manner.

While the training sessions provide some opportunity to network, there isn’t much time to meet and mingle. I am not aware of a space for DiverseCity onBoard members to get together to discuss experiences, and I would love to participate in such a discussion.

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