Mwenya Kawesha

Board member of the Royal Court Theatre; Engagement Manager at Faculty (an AI startup)

Pursuing your passion though a board role

Mwenya’s links to the Royal Court theatre where she is a board member go back a long way. She first connected with the theatre when she performed there as a teenager and, now in her early thirties, is one of the youngest members on the board.

After exploring her love of performing on stage as a child and young person, Mwenya’s career took her into business. However, she has always maintained a connection with the performing arts through contributing to projects related to her passion. These included founding an employee network to engage young audiences in theatre and taking on an advisory role with a charity supporting performing artists in conflict or crisis zones globally. “It was a lot of work, and meant giving up many evenings and weekends, but was also so exciting and interesting,” Mwenya says. 

Her awareness of and interest in board roles was kick-started by a Business in the Community project focused on getting young professionals onto Arts boards. But it was far from a short journey onto a board. “Overall, I was looking for a board role, on and off, for around five years,” she reveals. 

In part, this was as Mwenya was very conscious of finding the right role. She recognises that it is important to do your research on an organisation before applying, as ‘shopping around’ for a board role is less accepted than it is for executive jobs. However, she reflects that the interview is also a discovery process – on both sides. “I had been offered two board roles prior to the Royal Court,” she explains, “but I felt that it wasn’t the best timing and I was keen to be able to contribute fully.”

In fact, one of theone the elements which attracted her to the Royal Court was how robust the governance structure is.

“For my first trustee role, it’s great to be able to learn from a well-established board and access mentorship on how you navigate that,”

As with most people’s search for that first role, Mwenya was also unsuccessful in securing some non-executive roles she applied for. “They were with some amazing organisations, so it was disappointing at the time,” she says. 

Then Mwenya connected with Women on Boards via an event she attended for young professionals.   “It was perfect timing,” she considers, “as it was in a period where I was involved in multiple non-executive application and interview processes.” Mwenya was able to access Women on Boards’ full support as a Corporate Member, via the partnership with her then-employer Accenture. 

Preparation and pre-interview support

“The pre-interview support from Women on Boards was so helpful,” Mwenya says, “particularly on the difference between executive and non-executive interviews and how to present yourself. In retrospect, I think I may have been unsuccessful in interviews previously as I’d answered interview questions too much from an executive perspective.” 

In particular, Mwenya found the focus on values, cultural and ethics had a different lens at non-executive level. Confident to express her views as a trustee, Mwenya found her responses on these issues chimed perfectly with the ethos of the Royal Court when it came to interview there. “Looking back, if an application process feels too complex or confusing, maybe it’s just not right for you,” she reflects. “The Royal Court was the ideal opportunity for me.” 

Shortly after joining she was asked to sit on the Royal Court’s Finance sub-committee, despite not being a finance professional. “It’s highly rewarding to be involved and important to engage fully on financial questions, even if you don’t have a finance background” she explains, although she is also quick to point out that there are several board members on the committee who do have accountancy qualifications and extensive experience. 

Overall, it is clear that Mwenya has used her genuine passion for the performing arts as a driving force and her trustee role has become another way of sustaining her contribution to this sector. “My board role is the result of a lot of effort over many years,” Mwenya considers. “Ultimately you have to be really passionate about it.” 

Your next steps…