This Trustees Week we'd like to introduce you to one of our Trustees, Raj Mody, who is also the Chair of our Finance, Audit and Risk Assurance Committee. Raj joined us in 2019 and has been integral to the charity as we have faced the challenges of the past few years.
Why did you want to join the Trustee Board of the RAFCT?
I have had a lifelong interest in aviation, and related fields such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). I had attended the Royal International Air Tattoo a few times, which is when I first learnt about the RAFCT. My family and I were typically the first ones into the Techno Zone on Sunday morning, making the most of it before the crowds gathered. It was fantastic to see how the Charity put on an event of this calibre which was focused on inspiring young people. The combination of that focus on the next generation, and aviation, felt like a perfect fit for me.
Does the experience you have from your "day job" help you in your role as a Trustee?
I could never have foreseen just how much my career experience would be so useful for this role. I joined the RAFCT Trustee Board in early 2019. For the first year, it was a series of pretty routine meetings. We had a regular flow of income, primarily from RIAT. Most of our time was spent scrutinising grant applications to make sure we were having the right impact for the right beneficiaries, alongside the usual governance and oversight which comes with any charity board. We are lucky that the Board is very well represented by a good number of former RAF personnel, as well as those with close family associations to the RAF. Then the pandemic hit and we had to tackle a two-year period where the survival of the Charity, and RIAT as an event, was in the balance. Suddenly, our primary focus was on complex investment decisions, forensic scrutiny of budgets and cashflows, contingency and scenario planning. We also had to make some existential decisions about our strategy and survival options. All the experience from my work as a consulting actuary came to the fore and I was able to apply my financial experience to all of these issues.
Has the role turned out as expected?
Three years on, in short, I would say it's turned out nothing like I would have expected. It's been more demanding than expected, entirely because of the consequences of the pandemic, which adversely affected many charities including ours. During that period we also created a new Finance, Audit and Risk Committee, which I chair.
Does being a charity trustee help in other aspects of your life?
In my working life, I advise trustee boards of pension funds on a variety of issues covering risk, financing, strategy, governance and operations. I have found the skills and insights from that to be very transferable to the role of being a charity trustee. I've seen first hand how trustee boards operate, over three decades of experience, so can quickly get to the nub of the questions we should be asking ourselves. But now my own direct experience as a trustee of RAFCT allows me to continually improve and refine how I carry out my "day job" as an adviser to pension fund trustees. So it is symbiotic.
What differences would you like to see in the charity/airshow/STEM sector over the next few years?
I think the crucial challenge is one of sustainable aviation. It may seem contrary that I'm such a strong supporter of a charity which puts on an event such as an airshow - and the world's leading one at that - while also feeling strongly about the need to tackle issues such as climate change and sustainability. I believe passionately that you have to take a step back and look at the bigger and long-term picture. We need to reach a world where our endeavours in aviation, and space, are environmentally sustainable. To get there, from where things stand today, is going to need a huge amount of innovation and commitment, over a long period of time. So you have to ask: where are the next generation of scientists, engineers, mathematicians and technologists going to come from? What's going to inspire bright young people to choose these types of professions and careers, and stay the course despite inevitable setbacks? The end-to-end programme we follow at RAFCT, which includes the airshow and then also distributing the proceeds to inspire young people in these fields, achieves that in a unique way. Of course the airshow itself as an event will be on its own path to sustainability, just as other institutions are.
What advice would you give anyone looking to become a charity trustee?
Overall, I would say go for it. The camaraderie and team effort working as a trustee board is immensely rewarding. We have had fundamental challenges recently because of the pandemic and two cancelled airshow. We have come through that period as a stronger charity than ever before, including a better-than-ever RIAT in 2022. We have a diverse set of skills and perspectives, so our discussions and interactions are always thought-provoking. It all makes for a fantastic experience. I do think it's important to find the right fit - both in terms of the sector or type of charity, as well as the fit with your fellow trustees. There are bound to be some difficult situations, which you won't be able to see coming. If you have a strong sense of belonging and purpose, you're more likely to be able to devote the time required, and ultimately achieve better outcomes, while still enjoying the whole experience.