Svend-Jonas Schelhorn was one of the first members of the Board of Trustees of CODE in 2013, as he navigated providing expert advice and guidance for the Organisation in eight years.
Jonas exited the board in 2020, having contributed to CODE’s achievements. In his time as board member, Follow the Money evolved from a group of 5 to over 7000 social accountability activists who are tracking government spending and impacting lives in their communities across Africa.
Speaking of his early memories of joining the board, Jonas commented, “I wanted to support the organization, because I believe in its values, work and vision. When I joined, I was a budding humanitarian activist. It is certain that youthful exuberance was crucial in sustaining the CODE energy.” Jonas currently works as an Information Management Officer for JIPS, an inter-agency service based in Geneva, offering support to governments and international and local organisations to find durable solutions for internally displaced persons. He is also providing support for teams and individuals in Non-Violent Communication.
How would you describe your experience as a Board Member?
(Chuckles) It has been eye-opening, actually. I joined the board when I met Oludotun Babayemi, the co-founder of CODE, through an online network, the Standby Volunteer Task Force, where people connected to support humanitarian organizations with social media analysis in humanitarian crises. We did some work together and he and Hamzat Lawal deemed it fit to recommend me for the board position.
In the succeeding years, I followed CODE’s work and witnessed the growth of the organization, its success stories and the big impacts. I observed the growth keenly, witnessed the process and gave mild advice where necessary.
What do you think of the Organisation’s culture?
CODE is driven by passionate young people. I think this is admirable. I had the impression that the organization is living off a very strong vision and passion for what they do.
I have experienced this in my own organization. What I notice is that if you live by a very strong vision and passion, you will have a very big impact in a short time. A shortfall here is that the Organisation may not have historical and background experience that people who have worked in the field for twenty to thirty years have. As a consequence, you learn as you go. That also counts for what it means to lead a growing NGO.
If you were a board chair, what would you do differently?
First, I would provide a social cohesion mechanism between the organization and the board so that there’s no divide between both. I say that because in my experience, it is essential that the vision is clear to anyone who is working with that organization and that the vision is carried by all members of staff.
Second, I would try to build a functional Organisational structure such that all departments are in synergy. I know this is in existence but I would prioritise enhancing the structure and ensure a functional human resources structure as well.
The third is fund-raising. Is there a proper fund-raising strategy in place that helps to project for the organization? What are we doing now to prepare us for the next five years? How much money do we need to stay functional. The last thing would be to support the organization to function in a humane way so that people feel good about working for the organization and that the organization has a very good communications structure between the team members to identify and resolve bottlenecks. To be fair, these are in existence at CODE. I will only be reinforcing these mechanisms and ensuring that policies are reviewed frequently. I think the heart of an organization is its employees or the people who work for an organization. It is essential that everybody feels valued and a contributing member to the team.
Did you feel prepared for your board responsibility?
When I joined the board, I thought the idea of creating CODE with its vision was amazing. I still think it’s amazing and admire the impactful work that’s being done so far.
I was not particularly ready at the time. I was young and growing. When I realised the obligations that came with being a member of the board, I tried to meet up with the energy while I was a member. It was an honour (laughs).
How would you suggest CODE improves its board processes?
I think the recruitment of a board is, from my perspective, like the recruitment of an employee of an organization. You have to identify the people who are right for your organization. The candidate must have a clear vision of the responsibilities and expectations.
If I were to think about the future structure of a board and who should be on it, I would first think, What skills should a person have? What is their personality? A high-level of experience comes in handy. A specialist who has worked for decades and understands how the civil society space functions, what growth projection can be and how to access fundings. It is a huge responsibility so we will be getting experienced hands. The board is there to provide mentorship and leadership to all members of Staff.
Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Jonas. One last question, how would you like to stay involved with CODE?
Yes, I would be happy to stay connected because I am very passionate about leadership and establishing strategies for organizations. I think that’s exciting and also an area I would like to develop.
My journey with CODE has been nothing short of fulfilling. Watching the Organisation grow significant impacts, it felt like I grew simultaneously. Beyond work, I made lifelong friends.