Trustee chairs in conversation: Maureen O'Neil and Rebeca Grynspan (Part II)

Article, 15 August 2014

The outgoing chair of the board of trustees of the International Institute for the Environment and Development (IIED), Maureen O'Neil, discusses the important role of IIED's trustees in ensuring good governance of the organisation.

O'Neill discussed the role of IIED's board of trustees with Rebeca Grynspan, who succeeded her as chair of the board in June.

O'Neill was formerly president of the International Development Research Centre. She said that when she joined the IIED's board she had expected to meet people who were like activist-researchers anywhere. She said such people were passionate about making a difference in the world, and not that interested in worrying about the managerial underpinnings of the organisation.

She said: "That’s that I expected and that's what I found when I came – and I was delighted!"

O'Neil said the board of trustees played a key part in ensuring good governance. The board in effect represented the taxpayers of many different countries who were contributing to the IIED's work through donor framework agreements. 

She said: "We are those who are ultimately responsible. We must be reflective, collaborative — and also critics in the nicest and friendliest way because we are part of the accountability mechanism."

O'Neil added that a board should also support staff, saying: "We mustn't be an obstacle, we mustn't load them down with things that just look interesting. We should never micro-manage and we should be very good ambassadors for IIED out in the world, using all our connections to advance their work."

The 20-minute conversation between IIED's incoming and outgoing chairs is being published in four parts. The first conversation reviewed the institute's key challenges and successes over the last six years, while future segments include a discussion on how IIED has driven global change; the gender dimension of work within environment and poverty; and the qualities Grynspan intends to bring to her new position.