The FIFA corruption scandal has generated a lot of interest and comment in the global trade association community. It is easy to forget that the global money-making giant that is FIFA is a not-for-profit sporting association.
There has been a lot of discussion on FIFA in forums such as the ASAE, the U.S.-based organisation of association executives, typically with an emphasis on the governance-related issues of the scandal.
The FIFA scandal has come on the back of a number of other governance-related issues facing U.S. sporting associations, including questions about their tax status.
In Trinidad and Tobago, the discussion has tended to focus more on political governance, given Jack Warner’s role in the government of the country.
But the evident failures in FIFA’s governance should also be a subject for reflection for trade associations, chambers of commerce and professional bodies.
At the Energy Chamber, we have spent a lot of time over the past few years making sure that we strengthen our governance practices. In 2012, we conducted a thorough review of our practices, based on a series of international best practice guidelines developed by the International Chamber of Commerce, and we found a number of areas in which we were falling short of the established best practices.
This led to the introduction of some significant revisions to our by-laws in 2013. Probably the most significant element of reform was how we go about electing our Board members from amongst the membership, through the introduction of a more transparent procedure for nominations and the introduction of online voting for Board members.
We also introduced term limits for all Board members; previously, there were only term limits of three years for the Chairman, but other members could continue to serve indefinitely.
The Energy Chamber has implemented a very successful corporate governance project over the past three years, with significant funding support from the Inter-American Development Bank.
While the focus of that project was on for-profit companies and state-owned enterprises, many of the tools developed through the project are also directly relevant for non-profits as well.
One of the things that was highlighted in our corporate governance project is the need to clarify the different roles of the Board versus the role of management. This is something I think we’ve done very well in the Energy Chamber.
The Board thankfully keeps itself out of the day-to-day operation of the organisation and keeps its focus clearly on strategy and monitoring.
Board members are almost always willing and able to provide advice and guidance, for which I am very thankful, but they only do so when I ask for help, not when they feel like getting stuck-in.
This is partially the result of having the right governance structures in place, including well-planned and productive monthly Board meetings, but it is also a result of having the right organisational culture.
This culture has taken time to develop, and in my early days at the Energy Chamber more than a decade ago, the Board was more involved in the day-to-day management.
This was perhaps not surprising, given the fact that there were significant weaknesses in the management capacity of the executive office, and volunteer Board members often had to jump in just to get anything done.
When I talk to colleagues in many NGOs, one of their main complaints is the fact that their Boards get involved in their day-to-day business.
And this is not unique to Trinidad and Tobago: one of the recurring topics of conversation on the ASAE message boards is how to stop Board members from interfering in association management.
In the FIFA case, this was never an issue, as the lines between executive staff members (such as Chuck Blazer) and elected representative Board members (such as Jack Warner) were so blurred as to effectively not exist. And we all now know where that particular governance model has led.