Thank you for your interest in the role of Chair of the British Council.
The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. It supports peace and prosperity by building connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and countries worldwide. It works in close partnership with the Government, in particular the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and is also a registered charity and public corporation. Its important contribution and role in maximising the UK’s soft power was recognised in the recent Integrated Review Refresh (March 2023).
The following pages will tell you more about the purpose of the organisation, and the role of Chair, as well as the application process. Please also view the British Council’s website to understand their work: British Council | The UK’s international culture and education organisation.
As Chair, you will be expected to ensure the British Council has a clear mission, provide strategic vision and leadership to the Board of Trustees, and guide the organisation through some significant reforms to its business model. It is a challenging, high-profile role.
If you believe you have the experience and qualities required, we very much look forward to hearing from you.
Sir Philip Barton, Permanent Under Secretary of State at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office
We are looking to appoint a Chair who, working with the Deputy Chair and other Trustees, will:
- Ensure that the British Council has a clear vision, mission and strategic direction and ensure that this is communicated to stakeholders and to the wider public.
- Supports and holds the Executive responsible for delivering the strategy.
- Ensure that the British Council complies with all legal, regulatory and financial requirements and that corporate governance is of the highest standard
- Act as guardian of British Council reputation and assets, both tangible and intangible
Strong strategic leadership and influencing skills are essential. The Chair will complement the role of the CEO offering advice, expertise and support, whilst avoiding involvement in executive management; the roles are distinct. The Chair will also be responsible for providing strong and effective leadership to the Board ensuring the Trustees discharge their legal and public service responsibilities including the identification and management of organisational risks. The Chair will work inclusively, constructively and flexibly enabling the Board to fulfil its responsibilities for the effective governance of the charity and protection of the wider reputation of the British Council.
Trustees, including the Chair, carry out these responsibilities by:
- Preparing for and participating fully in Board meetings
- Becoming a member of a Board sub-committee as required and appropriate
- Participating in additional ad-hoc meetings
- Visiting the British Council’s operations overseas on occasion virtually and physically
- Being an advocate for the British Council in the UK including representational duties
In addition, more specifically the Chair is required to:
- Provide leadership to the Board of Trustees;
- Play a significant role in maintaining and further developing the British Council’s relationship with key stakeholders in the UK including Ministers
- Use their fundraising experience and connections to enable the organisation to attract significant new income; build sympathetic partnerships which complement and enhance the work and mission of the British Council.
- Amplifying the voice of the British Council;
- Lead the Board in supporting and holding the Executive to account for the delivery of agreed strategy;
- Regularly review the effectiveness of the Board and its composition, ensuring that appropriate processes are in place to recruit and appoint new Board members
- Chair the Nominations Committee and attend at least two other committees
- Lead the selection process for a new Deputy Chair as and when required.
The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. It creates opportunities, builds connections, and engenders trust between the UK and other countries through arts and culture, education, and the English language. It works with people in over 200 countries and territories and has offices in more than 100 countries. It is an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the FCDO, and also a registered charity and a public corporation.
Further information on the British Council and its activities, including its most recent annual report can be found on the British Council’s website.
The Board currently comprises fourteen Trustees. The Trustees of the Board are listed below and biographical information for each Trustee can be found on the British Council’s website.
- Sarah Sands (Deputy Chair and currently acting chair);
- Professor Wendy Alexander;
- Mark Beddy;
- Sir Stephen Deuchar CBE
- Yasmin Diamond CB
- Thomas Drew CMG
- Richard Hookway
- David Lefevre
- Rageh Omaar
- Malcolm Press
- Clare Reddington
- Dame Seona Reid DBE
- Sushil Saluja
- Fiona Salzen
Candidates must demonstrate an impressive record of achievement at a senior level in large and complex organisations operating internationally. They must have the experience and awareness necessary to operate confidently in less stable and more politically sensitive parts of the world.
Candidates must demonstrate the ability to oversee the British Council’s response to significant challenges over the next few years. These include shaping the strategy so it remains relevant, oversight of major changes in its business and funding models, the inherent risks, and the need for considerable re-skilling and culture change, in the context of ever-growing public scrutiny. It means looking for opportunities and efficiencies. This requires long-term focus, but also agility.
Details on how to apply are set out below. All candidates must demonstrate, in their CV and supporting letter, how they meet the following essential criteria, through their knowledge, attributes and skills.
- Proven track record of delivery, of developing strategies, and of overseeing their implementation across a complex organisation.
- Strong understanding of the British Council’s mission and core activities, for example of education and/or the creative sector.
- Proven expertise in building and managing complex stakeholder relationships at the highest level, including with government, influencers and donors.
- Experience of working with international partners and an understanding of relevant geopolitical context and trends.
- Sound commercial acumen, experience of growing and diversifying income generating opportunities globally and evidence of using fundraising experience and connections to attract significant new income to an organisation. Ability to leverage partnerships and new opportunities, especially in the context of income and expenditure limits.
- Strong skills in communicating, influencing, inspiring and advocating, and a passion for reaching new audiences.
- Prior board experience – with chair level experience highly desired – with the ability to be decisive and to build consensus.
- Good political acumen and an awareness of operating in an environment where there is much external scrutiny; from government, politicians, the public and commentators.