23 December 2020
Meet the Chair of the Board of Governors
In September 2020 Madan Menon took up his role as Chair of the UWCSEA Board of Governors. Madan is a banker with 30 years’ experience in large, complex international financial services environments and currently leads Scotiabank’s business across the Singapore, ASEAN, Australia and India regions.
Madan has been a parent at UWCSEA East since 2011, when his younger daughter joined Grade 3, followed by his older daughter the following year. He is now the proud father of one graduate and one Grade 12 student. After his first round of Board meetings in September 2020, Dunia sat down with Madan to explore what his new role of Chair means to him.
The role of the Chair of the Board is a volunteer role with lots of responsibility. Why did you agree to take it on?
My life philosophy is grounded in being of service to others and a belief in the importance of social purpose. My wife and I chose UWCSEA for our children because the College’s values align so closely with our own and I saw this as an opportunity to give back to an institution that has given my family so much. You’re right that the role of Chair brings with it a lot of responsibility: I am fortunate to have the expertise and support of my fellow Governors and the College leadership.
You’ve just completed one round of Board meetings. What are your first impressions?
Well, first I can say that the quality of conversation and thought at the Board level is truly humbling. We have an exceptional group of committed volunteers who are paying careful attention to the long-term future of the College so that future generations can benefit from the world-class education we provide. Second, I am really pleased to be able to have conversations with our outstanding educational leadership about the next iteration of a UWCSEA education in Singapore. Anyone who has tuned in to our Reimagining Learning series will know that the College is really engaged with the future of education.
You mention the role of the Board of Governors as securing the College for future generations. Can you say a bit more about that?
I am very clear on one thing: the overall responsibility of the Board is to be of service to students. Of course, we have significant fiduciary and strategic responsibilities, but these are all centred on what is best and right for students of the past, present and future. Part of that is ensuring good governance and compliance, managing the financial health of the organisation for the long term, managing risk and so on; and at first glance these might not seem to be functions that are focused on student learning. But in fact, all of these activities have students, their learning experience and their wellbeing at their centre.
People who start new roles are often asked about “the first 100 days”. Given that this is a volunteer position, let’s give you a year. What are your goals for your first year as Chair?
Thanks for the extra time to make a difference! My first responsibility is to continue to build a strong and positive partnership with the College President and ensure that the Board and leadership are fully aligned on the direction of the College and our various responsibilities. I also want to support and amplify the College’s role in Singapore. We were opened by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew nearly 50 years ago and in many ways our growth and success has played out alongside that of Singapore. It’s important to me that we strengthen our ties to our host country. The ongoing and critical work on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) will require the Board’s attention. Finally, I really want to continue to build a transparent Board environment. I hope to be able to host more regular communication between the Board and various community stakeholders. And all of that is in addition to the many projects and initiatives that are already on the table as a result of the UWCSEA Strategy 2018–2023 and, increasingly, the milestone 50th anniversary that is coming up in 2021/2022.
What are the big topics on the Board agenda at the moment?
The biggest and most important one is the future of learning at UWCSEA. The global pandemic has accelerated thinking about the next iteration of an international education, and it’s important we participate in, and indeed lead parts of, that conversation. Our senior educators are in conversation with the IB about pathways to graduation; and the recent conversations about DEI have demanded that we consider how to become a more inclusive school. It is the Board’s responsibility to ensure we provide the appropriate infrastructure and support to foster and nurture the energies of those engaged in this strategic change, and help make these decisions and implement them.
At the same time, we are looking at important governance issues, such as Board succession planning and a review of our constitution and governance. Along with the rest of our community, we are engaging with the next iteration of the Guiding Statements, particularly our restated values and the behaviours that accompany them. This is alongside our ongoing responsibilities of budget approval, internal audits and support for key College operations.
The Chair of the Board helps to create culture and set tone at Board level. How do you approach this part of your responsibility?
I always think of the College as an aspirational institution. Our mission is so idealistic and at the same time so relevant and so necessary. There are four words that I think complement our mission and guide me in my thinking as I try to fulfil the mission, both in my personal capacity and as Chair of the Board.
The first word is boundless hope and conviction for our children and the future, and an ongoing optimism that our students and the educational experience they have at the College will help to create a more peaceful and sustainable future. At the same time, we must provide assurance to students and parents that, while we are hopeful, we are also realistic: our first priority is for students to be safe and secure and we have reflected on most, if not every, conceivable risk.
The second is harmony, that we aim to be a harmonious community, with all stakeholders united in common purpose and living the mission and values. That is not to say that we all speak with the same voice, or that we don’t seek diversity of viewpoint but rather that we are at optimal harmony, where our voices together create a common message.
The third is humanism, a belief in the power of humanity, the critical importance of making a contribution to society and the importance of our individual actions. In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” This is especially important on the topic of DEI; we must hold ourselves to the highest standards here.
And finally, humility, that we remain aware of our privilege and of all the things we do not yet know, that we continue to learn from others and that, as a Board, we live the mission and values with respect and care for the voices of everyone.
Words to live by indeed. Any final thoughts?
Just that it is an enormous honour to become Chair of the Board. When I think back over my time as a parent at the College, I feel enormously grateful. I hope my tenure as Chair will give me the opportunity to make a positive difference in this great community.