Atiya Hakeem 2015 Q&A: Conflict of Interest

How would you define the term “conflict of interest” and how might it apply to you while serving on the Board?

A conflict of interest occurs when someone with decision-making power is in a position to personally benefit from the results of their own decision. So, for example, if I worked for a vendor that produced a service or product, and as Board I was involved in deciding which vendor to choose, that would be a potential conflict of interest. I don’t foresee this being an issue for me, but if it came up, I would, of course, recuse myself from the decision process.

Potentially, a director could have a conflict of interest if a Board decision involved an OTW staffer or volunteer with whom the director had had personal issues. I don’t feel there is anyone in the Org I could not work with objectively, but I think it’s important to be sensitive to potential problems of this type. If a staffer or volunteer had concerns about my objectivity that I were unable to address to their satisfaction, I would remove myself from the decision in question.

Given that some of you intend to keep your other Org positions, how do you intend to deal with conflicts of interest when matters arise which impact your committee?

a. For example, if your committee wants to implement a change which requires Board approval, but is not necessarily in the OTW’s best interests, or would have an impact on another committee, how would you ensure that your contribution to the Board’s decision reflected your position as a Board member and not your personal opinion as a member of the committee?

b. Conversely, if another committee sought Board approval for something that would impact your own committee, how would you ensure that you were giving their arguments a fair hearing?

a. First of all, no committee I have ever been on would intentionally submit a proposal to Board that was not in the OTW’s best interests. Regardless of whether I were on Board or not, if I felt my committee was proposing something that would be harmful to the organization of which we are a part, I would argue strenuously against it.

In a transparent environment, committees will know when Board is considering a proposal, and if a committee has an unaddressed concern about a potential impact, the proposal should be sent back for further discussion. I feel that having additional perspectives is a positive thing for decision making. It is neither necessary nor beneficial to set up an adversarial system in which committees must advocate one-sidedly for narrow goals. Joining AD&T in addition to Support, for example, didn’t create a conflict of interest for me as a Support staffer; instead it allowed me to bring a useful new point of view to both committees.

That said, as a member of Board, my primary responsibility must always be to the Org as a whole. No matter what other hats I wear, at the end of the day that perspective must take precedence.

b. Again, I don’t think Board should be making this type of decision unless it’s absolutely necessary. Where Board may legitimately have to make choices between projects is in allocating financial resources. I believe strongly in the importance of all the OTW’s projects and feel that I could work on budget allocation without undue bias, but it is an issue I would certainly be alert for, and I would give particular care to listening to my fellow Board members’ opinions on the subject.