How the Introduction of a Junior Board Helps to Ensure Continuity of Vision and Integrity in The TK Foundation    

Heather Cooper, Director, South African Grants of The TK Foundation 

As the Director of The TK Foundation’s grants programme in South Africa, I have had the privilege of working with the Junior Board of The TK Foundation.  This is an innovative concept that was created to assist the vision of The TK Foundation to be carried through to the next generation of grant-makers.   


The concept and purpose of a Junior Board 

 While the operationalisation and functioning of the Junior Board has not been without some challenges, overall, the implementation of this structure has proven to be very beneficial to everyone involved, including to the members of the main TK Foundation Board and the members of the Junior Board.  Moreover, this arrangement ensures that the younger family members have the knowledge and skills to continue to fulfil the vision of J. Torben Karlshoej, the founder of The TK Foundation. The TK Foundation is a private independent foundation organised in the Bahamas in 2002. The foundation is named after J. Torben Karlshoej, “T.K.”, who grew up on a farm in Denmark and later founded the Teekay Shipping Company, now Teekay Corporation.  The TK Foundation’s mission is to fulfil the legacy of J. Torben Karlshoej: firstly by enabling disadvantaged youth to succeed; and secondly by promoting maritime education and safety.   

 The purpose of the Junior Board is to bring the next generation of Karlshoejs into the philanthropic arm of the related family trusts and to give them an insight into the grant-making world – and specifically to ensure that they develop a deep understanding of the purpose and focus of the trusts, which has been formed over the years by people who knew Torben very well.  From the perspective of the current Board, it is hoped that there will be enough interest from the younger generation of Karlshoejs to not only be involved in some grant-making decisions, but also to learn the whole philosophy of how the board comes to decide what types of projects to fund, and to help them gain experience of what it is like when things go well, and also when things don’t go as planned.   

 The idea is that, by participating in the Junior Board, young family members will gain an understanding of the TKF culture and will learn more about how the original founders of TKF envisioned and honoured what they see as J. Torben Karlshoej’s values.  The Junior Board is learning how The TK Foundation operates and the philosophy on which the organisation rests.  At the same time, they are able to bring a new perspective to the organisation as a younger generation.  Bringing a different perspective is a good way to explore different and possibly better solutions. 


Benefits of this innovation  

Not only does The TK Foundation as a whole benefit, but the members of the Junior Board realise benefits to themselves as well.  As stated by one of the members of the Junior Board, Jesper Karlshoej, “The Junior Board allows [us] to dip [our] toes in a vast ocean and may also spur some of [us] on to pursue a career in grant-making.”  Members of the Junior Board have not only learned about how the grant process works and what to look for in terms of The TK Foundation’s philanthropic work, they have also developed a broader range of skills that have helped them as they begin their own careers.  Examples of grant-making experience include skills in research and due diligence, project analysis and assessment, grantee selection, monitoring and evaluation, and reporting. Examples of the development of a broader range of professional skills include the importance of communication and collaboration, time management, flexibility, and teamwork.  

Another family member, Camilla Karlshoej, detailed additional benefits that being a member of the Junior Board has brought to her: “First of all, to be able to support projects that are impactful on people’s lives is fantastic.  Second, it’s a privilege and an honour to contribute to the work of The TK Foundation and, in doing that, Torben’s legacy. Besides, being a part of the Junior Board has opened the philanthropic world to me, which I find really interesting. It is a world I would like to explore in the future as well. The Junior Board has brought me closer to family members – working alongside my cousin Yumi and my brother Jesper and with my other cousin Susie as a board member.” 

Both the TKF Board and the Junior Board adhere to a relatively fixed set of objectives and goals for the foundation as a whole. The Junior Board, however, is both more restricted and less restricted in certain respects. For example, the Junior Board is provided with a specific fixed amount each year, for which they must find one worthy grantee. Moreover, they must work closely with senior advisors from the TKF Board so that the more experienced board members can help them as needed, while making sure that the Junior Board stays on track. The Junior Board, however, are allowed slightly more freedom in relation to the objectives and goals of The TK Foundation – this leniency allows that they are able to investigate and support organisations that may be too small or too risky for support from the main Board.  


Overcoming challenges  

There have been some challenges, which include that Junior Board members had to work around their differing physical locations and busy schedules. They are busy with gearing up in their careers and/or education, and they are living all over the world. This makes coordination and scheduling of meetings and the communications aspect of planning a project together difficult. There has also been some overlap seen between the work done in the different geographical areas of the overall foundation and the projects researched by the Junior Board, and without proper communication, this has sometimes proven to be confusing for potential grantees and may have made The TK Foundation appear as somewhat unprofessional in some instances. With improved communication and coordination, these difficulties can be overcome, but they must be recognised and addressed. 


Principled and responsible grant making   

When next generations are trained to become the future of grant-making, experienced generations have the opportunity to teach from a set of principles that will ensure that grant-making is done responsibly.  Specifically, the main Board and the management team of The TK Foundation spend a great deal of time educating the Junior Board, emphasising the importance of the values of the founder. As Junior Board members, they learn to understand that they are here to make a difference to disadvantaged youth and the maritime industry to ensure a better tomorrow. If they take the easy route by not performing due diligence and not requiring high standards from the grantees, they risk losing something very valuable – the integrity of The TK Foundation. 

If they, as next generation grant-makers, are well-informed on the grant-making processes, they stand a better chance of following in the footsteps of the current generation of grant-makers.  Susan Karlshoej, Managing Director of The TK Foundation and daughter of Torben Karlshoej, articulated this sentiment very well: “ If the board members all won the lottery and stopped picking up the phone, we can be comfortable knowing that young family members have had a bit of understanding of the TKF culture, and knowing a bit of how we at TKF envisioned and honoured what we see as  J. Torben Karlshoej’s values – especially giving people a hand up, levelling the playing field, and valuing seafarers, Torben’s ‘Vice Presidents at Sea’”. 

Overall, the hope is that the members of the Junior Board will come on as TKF Board members or staff in the future or lead a certain initiative within the foundation. However, even if the Junior Board members choose not to participate in the future, it is clear that participating on the Junior Board will have far-reaching benefits for them and for the overall foundation. 

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