The winners of the Beacon Awards – the UK’s ‘Philanthropy Oscars’ – were announced last week.
Among them are international icons – Dame Vivienne Westwood and Dame Kelly Holmes; entrepreneurs such as Tom Illube, founder of the first major internet bank Egg, and Shalni Arora, geneticist and founder of biotech giant DxS; financiers, including investors Jonathan Ruffer and James Thomas, and private banker Alexander Hoare, as well as household hero Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis.
I had the rare privilege of interviewing the 12 winners about their motivations and methods for giving. I was left feeling humbled, over-awed, more than a little inadequate, and with the need to call for a rethink on how we receive philanthropists as a nation.
Philanthropy is too often seen by the UK public as the waving about of wads of wonga by the wealthy in a bid to either show it off, make a point, play God, make themselves feel good about themselves, or dodge tax (did I cover everything?!).
It is an unnecessarily uncharitable view when you look at the evidence and hear why these award-winning philanthropists are giving. I asked them all what impact they were hoping to achieve through their giving and what they felt was the power of philanthropy.
Among their answers, Private Equity Investor James Thomas, who is investing millions of pounds and his time in bringing human traffickers to book through his Justice and Care charity, says: “I want to be able to look back and say that I did everything that I could to fulfil my calling, to save lives and to help countries to set up justice systems that protect those on the very margins of society. I want to encourage everyone I meet – especially people with the capacity to give significantly – to identify what they are passionate about and to make a difference.”
Sporting hero Dame Kelly Holmes, who is improving the potential of disadvantaged youth by having them mentored by world class athletes, says: “If I can make a difference to someone’s life, either through support, opportunity or fundraising, then that’s the greatest gift I can ever give.”
Entrepreneur Tom Ilube (also voted most influential Black Brit 2017) wants to discover the next African female Einstein and is funding the African Science Academy for girls to that end. He says: “Education is my focus, in particular science and technology education in secondary schools. I look for where I can add real value and the points of maximum leverage. Philanthropy has taught me that any fool can make money, but you have to be really smart to give in a way that makes a real difference.”
Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis, who is investing millions in his Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, says: “Money problems are often wrongly seen as ‘just’ a financial issue. Yet they can destroy relationships, trigger mental health crises, cause suicidal thoughts, and leave some losing the roof over their head and the custody of their children. If any of that happened less often, I’d be happy.”
Private banker Alexander Hoare, a social investment pioneer and innovator, who won the Award for City Philanthropy sponsored by the City of London Corporation’s charitable funder, City Bridge Trust, says: “Done well the power of philanthropy lies not just in releasing talents, improving lives, etc., but results in improvements to the whole of society, including the donors.”
Investor Jonathan Ruffer is re-energising a depressed North East community by turning Auckland Castle into a tourist destination and world-class centre for Spanish art.
He says: “For me, the biggest thing of all is God, and I want Auckland Castle to be a place where God may be found ‘in the beauty of holiness’.
“I also understand that we live in an age when there is a widespread grumpiness at the very thought of the existence of God. The experience at Auckland Castle extends the idea of seeking things bigger than ourselves to other avenues of inspiration. Art, music, gardens, nature, food, silences, walks and the patina of heritage will all be found here.”
I have written much about philanthropy over the years, and now as the City of London’s new head of philanthropy engagement, last week was a reminder that modern philanthropy is smart, determined, self-effacing, pioneering, authentic and light years from the paternalism of Victorian philanthropy, for which it is often confused.
We encourage such practices through leading by example with responsible business practices and with CoLC’s charity-funder The City Bridge Trust, London’s biggest independent grant giver, making grants of £20 million a year to tackle disadvantage across the capital.
We support businesses to recruit inclusively, procure responsibly, and encourage employee volunteering, including through the Heart of the City network and through City Philanthropy which aims to encourage a new generation of city workers to give their money, time and talent.
With state funding on the decrease and charities under greater pressure than ever, philanthropy and philanthropists are needed more than ever. Instead of knocking philanthropy, we should, as a nation, celebrate the Beacon Award winners and modern philanthropy for the vital force for good it is.
Cheryl Chapman is the City of London Corporation’s Head of Philanthropy Engagement