Family constitution: Setting out family values and vision


Family-owned businesses make up a large percentage of Kenyan enterprises. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

'Write down the vision and make it plain on tablets so that he may run who reads it.' Habakkuk 2:2

The Christmas season is a time when many families gather to feast and celebrate. This is why it is such an ideal time to consider having in place a family constitution. A family constitution is a document that sets out the family values and vision for the future.

Just imagine how nice it would have been if you had a document from your ancestors dating hundreds of years back. A family constitution is a gift that your present family can give to future generations to come.

We often think of bequeathing wealth, but through a family constitution, you can bequeath values and ethics by passing them on to the next generation. A family constitution is an instrument through which a family can shape tradition and culture.

Incidentally, many of the world’s greatest family dynasties have family constitutions that guide the family lineage on matters core to the family. Perhaps it is time to consider having in place a family constitution. The interesting thing about having a family constitution is that the cost is negligible compared to the benefits that present and future family members will enjoy from it.

The benefits of a family constitution include having a clear vision, values and goals. This helps members to have a sense of cohesion and belonging. Other than shaping family traditions and culture, a constitution also gives the family members a strong sense of identity and belonging.

It provides guidance and direction on how issues of the family are to be handled. It’s a document that legalises hierarchy in the family and since it is a document that is drafted by all family members, it is accepted by family members. It sets rules and provides a mechanism for which disputes within the family can be handled.

Often family constitutions are recommended where family members run a joint business. But, I think it is also a great tool for families that do not engage in joint investments. They are the greatest way to preserve a family legacy for hundreds of years.

The oldest family business is a Japanese restaurant that is thousands of years old! Having been set up thousands of years ago, it has been handed down the generations and is still in existence to this very day.

How do you get started? The first thing is to get your family together. Other than feasting, this year you can have some discussions with your family that will culminate in a family constitution. For this to work, encourage free dialogue and get every person’s views. During the meeting discuss what values you think your family stands for.

Discuss your objectives and goals as a family. An example of goals could be producing being highly educated, running successful businesses, philanthropy and so on. Define the roles and responsibilities of various family members. Discuss rules and how to handle conflicts. Have someone document and take minutes of the meeting.

Once the minutes are done then you can draft a family constitution based on the discussions. Circulate the draft to all members for acceptance and once accepted then all can sign.

Your family can then celebrate attaining a milestone not many families have been able to achieve! This document is highly recommended for families.

Ms Mputhia is the founder of C Mputhia Advocates | [email protected]

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