Evelyn Simpson works as a coach, mentor, advisor, and director in the Scottish start-up community. And she’s also the Chair of Venture Scotland’s Board of Trustees! Evelyn has been a Trustee of Venture Scotland since 2016 and, as Chair, has focused on recruiting new board members, bringing the board structures up to date and of course supporting David and the team through the challenges of Covid.
As part of celebrating Trustees Week 2021, we caught up with Evelyn for a quick chat about all things Trustees, young people and the great outdoors!
Evelyn. You’ve been with Venture Scotland since 2016 – what first got you involved with VS?
I’ve lived all over the world and, in every country I’ve lived in, have found ways to volunteer in the local communities. When I moved back to my native Scotland, I was keen to find an organisation to work with here. It turns out that my friend and running buddy, Anja Balfour, was one of VS’s founders and she connected me with the organisation. I started volunteering and, after attending my first awards night (luckily someone told me to bring tissues) I was hooked.
What does your role, as Chair of Venture Scotland’s Board of Trustees, entail, what’s your favourite part of your role and what do you find most challenging?
As Chair of VS, I’m responsible for leading the Board of Trustees, which is in turn responsible for making sure that the charity does what it says it’s going to, in a financially responsible and legally compliant way. I lead our 6 meetings per year and set the agenda for the work that the board needs to do to improve our governance. So over the course of the last two years, I’ve supported David and the team in the development and implementation of our 3 year strategy, the aims that the board hold him and the team accountable for, and our fundraising strategy. We’ve also completely revamped the organisation’s risk register, which identifies where we have risk as an organisation and makes sure that we are managing it. You may have noticed that over the last 18 months we’ve taken on a number of new board members, as we needed to bring our board back to a full complement and a number of board members came to the end of their tenure and finding the right people has been a big focus for me. Lastly, it won’t have escaped anyone’s notice that the last two years have been very challenging, between funding challenges and Covid. I am so proud of the Board for going above and beyond to support Venture Scotland through this period of time.
Our Ambassadors are involved in the running of VS, including attending Board meetings – how has their contribution impacted the Board?
Our Ambassador programme has been a game changer at every level of the organisation and the board is no exception. It took us a little while to find the right way for our Ambassadors to participate in the board process but we now have two Ambassadors as observers at each meeting. It’s invaluable to us as a board that we can ask for their opinions on decisions we are making as their lived experience of Venture Scotland’s work means they can often offer a perspective that has previously been missing at the board table.
But their impact on the board goes beyond that as they’ve been involved in every Trustee interview since the programme started, so their voices have helped to shape the board.
Diversity has been a big theme in this year’s Trustees Week. Recent UK research shows that 8% of trustees are non-white, only 36% of trustees are women and only 0.5% of trustees are aged 18-24 – how important is it that Venture Scotland continues to work towards greater diversity?
Diversity is one of VS’s core values, but I will be honest and say that, at the board level, we have a long way to go. Although 75% of our trustees are women, we are all white people of a certain age. Trustee recruitment is becoming increasingly challenging but that doesn’t stop us from trying. With every board recruitment, we are aiming for greater diversity – I’m keen that our next new Trustee be a young Trustee. In the meantime, it’s incumbent on us to seek input from more diverse voices (ambassadors, partners etc) to challenge our thinking. We’ve also recently done diversity training. Although we all think of ourselves as inclusive, confronting our unconscious biases was quite uncomfortable. But as everyone who’s been around VS knows, we don’t change by staying in our comfort zones and there’s no doubt that greater diversity makes us better in every way, so watch this space.
What’s next for the Board?
We recently did a 360-degree review of the board’s performance and the feedback we got was loud and clear – we need to do a better job of making ourselves and our work visible and transparent to all our stakeholders, as many don’t really know what we do. So, we’re working on ways to do that, and you’ll see more from us in coming months.
Several of our board members have joined us during the pandemic and we’ve yet to meet in person, so we are planning a board team-day to get to know each other in 3D and also talk about some long-term board strategy planning.
Venture Scotland uses the outdoors as a vehicle for improved mental health – what do the outdoors mean to you?
The outdoors is my happy place and I particularly love all things ocean. I’m a surfer, paddleboarder and outdoor swimmer. But you can also find me outside running, biking, hiking and walking my dog.
I credit outdoor swimming, particularly in cold water (I swam in the sea every day in January) for getting me through the pandemic and lockdowns. Getting into sub 5C water is life affirming!
What’s your favourite joke?
I am rubbish at remembering jokes, but I grew up reading the Beano and went to an exhibition last weekend celebrating 70 years since they introduced Dennis the Menace. It was full of really bad jokes but the sign that said “5 out of 4 people don’t understand fractions” really made me laugh.
Tragic, I know……