As a fundraiser for Marie Curie, Emma Corry is accustomed to working in an environment in which she wholeheartedly believes.
In 2018, after spending some time working in the charity sector, Emma had an interest in seeing a charity from the ‘inside’ and also wanted to fulfil her desire to be on the board of a charity or organisation.
However, there were a few obstacles that stood in her way.
“I had this perception that you had to have a lot of experience to be on a board,” she said.
“Like a lot of people, I thought that being on a board was something you did at the end of your career.”
Despite her misgivings, Emma decided to apply to the Boardroom Apprentice, a programme which gives participants the opportunity to learn about being on a board and – more importantly – experience all that sitting on a board entails.
Indulging her interest in the charity sector, Emma chose the National Lottery Community Fund as her first choice who are responsible for the division of funding throughout Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom and supporting projects.
Having overcome her initial diffidence about sitting on a board, Emma threw herself into all that the National Lottery Community Fund board had to offer.
Through her involvement, she was included in UK-wide events which enabled her to attend meetings in both London and Derry/Londonderry.
Emma was also encouraged by founder Eileen Mullan to become more involved and to utilise her passion for wanting to proactively make a difference.
“When I joined in 2018/19, the Boardroom Apprentice was in its second year,” she says. “A friend had attended the programme in its inaugural year and her testimonial for it was so enthusiastic that I decided to apply,
“The programme more than exceeded any expectations that I had and it definitely enabled the apprentices to transform into confident individuals, with our potential growing into a distinct clarity of progression as time went on.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be such an encouraging and positive experience. So many people who were on other boards came to speak to us, encouraging us in what we were doing every step of the way.”
Networking with members of those on the board provided opportunities for individualistic training alongside board meetings, and, throughout the programme, Emma was supported and encouraged to continue – despite the self-imposed barriers of doubt.
“It was great meeting and networking with the other Boardroom Apprentices and having that support was really useful,” she said.
“You think there are barriers in place and, like me, a lot of people think they’re too young or don’t have enough experience or that they aren’t the right person for the role, but if you’re open to trying new things, the sky’s the limit.”
One thing that impacted Emma was the Boardroom Apprentice’s devotion to embracing diversity.
“The stereotypes surrounding the boardroom – including gender imbalance – can impact an applicant’s decision to apply. However, Eileen is totally dedicated to establishing a diverse board, inclusive of all backgrounds, ages, experience and gender.
“There are so many people who do have something to give but they feel that they don’t have the confidence or they’re not the right person to do it so it’s just really a positive experience giving people the confidence to apply,
“Diversity is not just one thing – male or female. I think the important thing is being very vocal and active around it,” she said.
Emma attributes her newfound confidence to Eileen and the National Lottery Community Fund Board – without which she may not have persevered.
“The enhancement of skills as a result of the programme definitely contributed to my understanding of the complexities within the role of a board member, including financial delegation and the impact their decisions have upon the charity.
“It was my experience on the National Lottery Community Fund that gave me the confidence to apply for the Children in Need Advisory Committee in Northern Ireland.
“My committee role with Children in Need, is a role in which I will be part of advising on work supporting in Northern Ireland and garnering a better knowledge of the inner workings of a charity – all of which contribute to the development of my role.
“It’s a challenging thing – but I think it can be a rewarding experience. Being on a board is good, working with a team of people as well. I suppose it’s just developing skills from lots of different areas and having a positive impact on a cause that you really feel that you believe in and feel strongly about.”
In addition to her role with Children in Need, Emma is now also a Trustee on the board of the Headliners charity. The charity, which is based in both Northern Ireland and England, aims to give young people a voice by using journalism and media as a tool for learning, empowering young people to tell their stories.
“As a Trustee with Headliner, my responsibilities include attending meetings and supporting the staff. Organisational abilities are utilised in terms of the placement of strategy within the organisation which comprises long-term objectives and upcoming plans. Being a Trustee involves regular meetings, which have primarily been via Zoom due to coronavirus restrictions,
“I firmly believe that this type of work is a way of doing something positive for the community or for a cause that you really believe in. It’s a good way of getting involved,
“The Boardroom Apprentice was a great opportunity to get that confidence to then apply for roles. I suppose it’s making everybody realise that everybody has an opportunity to give something.”
Despite her passion and enthusiasm for what she does, Emma is also more than aware of the limitations that such work can place on time and capacity.
“Being on a board is a lot of time and commitment,” she says. “I suppose when you are applying for a role it’s really important to consider how it fits in with everything else.
“You have to have a reason why you want to do it and feel strongly and passionately that you want to do it. It is a lot of work and time, so that is important.”
“You have to want to do it and want to make a difference. I think commitment is key really.”
Ultimately, the Boardroom Apprentice programme expanded Emma’s network, simultaneously building confidence and contributing to skills that will enhance future projects that she undertakes.
“It’s a really positive experience in terms of doing something worthwhile, meeting people, building confidence and skills, and recognising that you do have something to give and can make a positive impact in things that you really believe in.
“Belief in the cause is the primary focus. Once you believe in the cause, the satisfaction you derive from what you do is amazing!”