As part of Changeworks' new board member recruitment earlier this year, Abi Gardner joined our governing body. The Changeworks board is a group of experienced volunteers helping to set our direction, so diverse perspectives are really important. 

That's why we were especially excited that Abi became our youngest ever board member! Still in her 20s, Abi also bucks the trend when it comes to charity trustees in the UK – only three per cent of them are under 30, according to The Young Trustee Movement. Her perspective will also help inform Changeworks’ work with young people. 

We spoke to Abi about her career, background, and what made her want to get involved with Changeworks as a board member.

What made you decide to become a trustee?

Through my job at NatureScot I joined the Young Employee Panel, and was able to experience board meetings and the work that goes into that role. It’s easy to see how young people make up only three per cent of charity trustees – the skills development needed for these roles and the exposure to them isn’t common among young people. I thought I’d use what I learned to help a charity and show that young people can be a valuable addition to boards. 

Why do you think it's important that more young people become trustees?

Young people are not only the leaders of tomorrow, but they are the leaders of today. Diversity of perspectives is a requirement, not a nice to have for any effective and successful board. 

Boards benefit from having diverse views, skills and experience in the room. Young people are not the only group which is underrepresented in charity leadership. I hope that as we increase the number of young trustees, we also move the dial on the many other identities also currently underrepresented at board level, approaching board diversity with an intersectional lens.

Tell us more about your career, and how that led you to Changeworks.

While studying Geography at the University of Manchester I had a number of part time jobs, as well as getting involved in campaign movements like Fossil Free Manchester. After that I did my Masters at the University of Edinburgh in Ecosystem Services, exploring the interactions between the environment, climate and people.

I then joined NatureScot as a graduate and am now the Biodiversity and Climate Change Engagement Officer, working on making the connection between the dual crisis of biodiversity loss and the climate emergency, with a focus on youth, and other minority groups, engagement through co-design and behavioural change methods.

What do you want to achieve by being involved?

As well as doing my best to support a charity with an ambitious and worthwhile goal, there are three primary things I want to achieve

  • develop and build on my own skills and knowledge, 
  • show young people that they can be successful and valuable leaders in a space they are underrepresented, and 
  • demonstrate to others that young people are not only capable of being effective Board members, but are key for organisations to thrive.

What opportunities are there for Changeworks and the environmental sector to engage with young people?

Young people were the only group to rank climate as their top priority for the 2021 Scottish Parliament election. Many are already engaged on the issues and passionate about changing the trajectory we are on. It’s down to Changeworks and partners within the environmental sector to help by providing opportunities for young people to take action. This can be through including young people in your decision-making processes as well as ensuring your services are accessible to all.

Youth engagement can seem like a daunting task – but done properly through co-designing projects and services and allowing for meaningful youth involvement in decision-making, any organisation in any sector, whether a charity, public body or business, can prosper.

If you want to get involved in helping us build Scotland's low-carbon future, come and volunteer with us - or even apply to join our team of staff across Scotland!