Oxford Alumni Weekend - Meeting Minds
Oxford Alumni Weekend – Meeting Minds
Philanthropy - Megatrend of the 21st Century
16 September 2011
Dame Stephanie Shirley
Foundation Fellow, Balliol
Ambassador for Philanthropy 2009/10
Chairman, Alumni, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Many people happily interchange the terms "charity" and "philanthropy".
If you give 50p to a homeless person, that's a generous act of charity. If you give 50p to The Gatehouse, one of Oxford's many services for the homeless, that's equally charitable. But once you start thinking "Why are people living on the streets?" "What can one do to avoid something we view as a social ill?" then you're acting as a philanthropist. And that's true whether we are talking about 50p or £50,000.
Philanthropy is practical benevolence. Giving with purpose. Back in the last century The Economist magazine predicted it to be one of the megatrends of the 21st century – filling in the gaps between public spending.
* * * * * * *
This is a personal story of my youth, business years and philanthropy. Finishing with my role as Founding Ambassador for Philanthropy. I aim to say some things you haven't heard before; my theme revolves round the idea that there's no such thing as altruism, giving is a pleasure. There'll be lots of time for Questions and Discussion.
I learnt about giving early because my childhood was very different. My Jewish family lived in Dortmund near Berlin, during a time of horrendous discrimination. Shortly after my birth, my father lost his job by edict of the so-called Third Reich and the bad times began with the family moving round Europe trying to find a safe place. I was too young to remember the worst and my parents did a very brave thing – when I was five years old, they organised for me to come to England on a children's train, a Kindertransport, organised by the Quaker Society of Friends into the arms of strangers, thinking never to see me again. When war was declared, over 70 years ago now, I was formally classified as a Friendly Enemy Alien!
Hitler had taken nationality away from Jewish families so I arrived, one of 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees, stateless, penniless and without a word of English. Actually my father had taught me some useful phrases "slow combustion stove" and "windscreen wiper" but I didn't know how to ask to go to the bathroom. Of course pain allows you to grow. It has sensitised me in ways that many people who have always been wealthy cannot imagine. I was lucky to be fostered by a childless couple in the Midlands who brought me up as they would have their own; their Christian ethic was that it was better to give than to receive and what greater gift can anyone give a child than unconditional parental love?
Only a tiny proportion of Jews survived so I was doubly lucky to be reunited with my birth parents after the war. But I learnt very early that tomorrow is always different, to deal with my survivor guilt (in 1939 we didn't know about post-traumatic stress, the irrational depression at having survived when so many died) by making each day count, to make my life worth saving. Finally as an immigrant I love this country with a passion perhaps only someone who had lost their human rights can feel.
* * * * * * *
My Jewish star is now in the Holocaust Museum and Ruth, the doll who travelled with me on that 2½ day journey, is safe in the Bethnal Green toy museum.
There's a wonderful statue at Liverpool Street station where most of us arrived, commemorating this largest ever recorded migration of children (aged up to 16). At five, I was one of the youngest on my train though there were some babes-in-arms, cared for by girls (16+) who had committed themselves to return to almost certain death. Of course, I did not know this at the time but would like now to record their heroism... another gift to humanity.
* * * * * * *
Moving now to my years in business: I'm often asked for the secrets of commercial success. One secret is to choose your partner very carefully. The other day, when I said, "My husband's an angel", a woman complained, "You're lucky, mine's still alive."
I was on Desert Island Discs last year. My husband need never worry if I were marooned, several charities would quickly come and find me.
In my first job I went to evening classes for years to get my degree. Later, as we were planning for a family, I founded an early software house as a 20th century cottage industry for women. A company of women; a company for women. I pioneered the professionalism of women – especially in hi-tech – and was the first woman this, the only woman that.
Driven not by the technology; more as the social crusade; a social enterprise challenging the conventions of the time. Even to the extent of changing my name from Stephanie to Steve in my business development letters – so as to get through the door before anyone realised that he was a she.
My company's mature success (it eventually employed over 8000 people - more than half in India) enabled my husband and I to improve our lives, but we didn't wish to change them completely. So we live modestly with my time in active retirement dedicated to philanthropy.
My attitude to money is changed. No longer am I the refugee survivor, dependent on others, individual or corporate.
Philanthropy provides me with a super quality of life. I'm a workaholic and like to be part of a group, to be actively busy, to spend my time with interesting people on worthwhile projects. Like the Quakers, I believe in the beauty of work when we do it properly, and in humility. Work is not just something I do when I'd rather be doing something else.
My company had profit sharing pretty well from start up but I eventually decided that my dream company should entrust its destiny to its staff. I wanted the staff to help me build the company and I wanted to share in the success of what they helped build.
So one of my first major gifts was taking the company into co-ownership (inspired by the John Lewis Partnership) and getting a quarter of the shares into the hands of the staff at no cost to anyone but me. I'm more proud of that than of my commercial success.
Philanthropy is a way to participate. Money, time and skills are equal partners - it's not just for the superwealthy. The world is as you dream it. Money is so integral with every other part of our lives that when we take a stand for it to make a difference, it affects every part of our life.
* * * * * * *
As one of the pioneers of the IT industry I'd been on the founding Court of the City's IT livery company and later became its Master, yes Master, the archaic term used in the livery movement.
It was of course Dick Whittington – miaow – (yes Sir Richard Whittington, three times Lord Mayor of London and the wealthiest merchant of his day) who left his fortune for "charity and public purposes" in 1423. 600 years later, his generosity is still giving help to people.
There are all kinds of gifts. People sacrifice time and comfort to give blood for someone else. Others donate bone marrow. And kidneys where the genetic match is close enough. And there are gifts after death; corneas, kidneys, livers, skin, hearts – the last expressions of love for others.
The livery movement with its timeless commitment to charity, education, and commerce, has financial wealth rooted in the dim and distant past. I wanted to give the young IT Company a contemporary slant and to upgrade its charitable trust with some serious money. So after some months of anonymous research, The Shirley Foundation donated £5m. The gift did not include press and publicity (for some arcane reason, this is not considered charitable) so I personally funded its launch by Man on the Moon, Buzz Aldrin.
£1m of this £5m gave the IT company a small working Hall, the first new Hall in the City for 50 years.
The other £4m went into the IT Company's charitable trust. It's used its benefaction in two interesting ways. Firstly to give structure to a variety of giving projects in the IT industry; it's become the charity of the IT industry. Secondly to give philanthropic outlet for the time and energy that every single person has available to give. Members are actively involved in giving IT advice to not-for-profit organisations, in giving an ailing school appropriate IT facilities and skills, indeed in managing the Academy Schools with which it's associated. Hammersmith Academy, addressing special needs of all kinds, from those with learning difficulties to the exceptionally gifted, is formally to open on the 28th of this month.
It gives some grants, yes, but measuring members' time contributions (using commercially defined consultancy rates) shows a leverage of at least ten to one. A grant costing the charitable trust £10,000 is, with members' input, turned into a gift valued at £100,000. A shining example of embedded in-kind giving.
Someone then pointed me to my second big IT project. 10 years ago I was pleased to sponsor the Oxford Internet Institute. This multi-disciplinary research institute concentrates on the non-technical aspects, the social, economic, legal and ethical aspects of the Internet. They've always interested me far more than the technology.
* * * * * * *
Philanthropic giving is like good business. I focussed on the two things I know and care about: Information Technology, my chosen profession, and autism, a particularly nasty congenital condition which strikes at the very heart of what we mean by humanity. It was my late sons' disorder.
Everyone knows if it's children, or the elderly or environmental issues, animals which interest them...
And I honour the many, many people on whom the charities rely: those who commit small sums, month after month, year after year. And the millions who responded to the Haiti, Pakistani and Japanese disasters and give to the aid organisations.
Materialists believe that the only things that matter are those we can verify with our own senses. The main goals in life are correspondingly wealth and power since the more abstract goals are too difficult to measure. As a self-made millionaire I know that economic sustenance is important – but not all-important. Social responsibility demands that we develop a spiritual dimension to life.
So what does a successful entrepreneur like me do in retirement? I go on trying to innovate. But as a social entrepreneur, not for profit. As I started this talk, one definition is that charity is repairing some aspect of society. Philanthropy is aimed to be preventative. And I do both. I'm putting as much effort into learning to give money away wisely – and taking just as much satisfaction as I got from earning it in the first place. So far well over £50m has transmuted from figures on a sheet of paper to something meaningful.
* * * * * * *
Moving on with the giving phase of my life. As I've shown with my co-ownership example, there are several levels of giving, it's not just a question of money. Everyone has contacts, time and skills to give.
And there was a family side to my story.
Giles was our only child, a beautiful baby. Because of my traumatic childhood I'd aimed to give him a quiet, secure life and he was so contented as a baby that at first I thought we were doing rather well.
But at eight months I took him to the doctor because I had concerns about his lack of progress. He was late in walking and late in talking. And then at two and a half (like the changeling in the fairy story) he lost the little speech he had and turned into a wild, unmanageable toddler.
Then the bombshell diagnosis: Giles was severely autistic.
He became increasingly difficult, banging his head repetitively and sometimes lashing out at us. He needed constant attention and care. Like other parents of a child with autism – even those with less severe autism – the disorder dominated our lives. To make things worse, puberty hit early for Giles and he couldn't take it at all and became really violent.
Those were awful, ghastly times and eventually I cracked up and Giles and I both finished up in hospital. I came out of mine after a month and was back at work within the year, but Giles remained in a locked ward for 11 years.
Until he was 16, he attended the hospital school but then, as the years passed, Giles lost most of his human rights. Against the advice of the hospital consultants we decided to look after him again ourselves, this time with paid help. Progress in de-institutionalising him was slow, but in between his extreme and challenging behaviour, he was a charming innocent (the Victorian term).
* * * * * * *
My first big charitable project, pre-dating Care in the Community by several years, was Kingwood. Classically Giles was the first resident, in the first home. Kingwood now supports over 50 adults with autism – some in their own homes, some in parental homes, others in one of the original residential facilities. It took some 17 years from start-up to reach financial independence – a salutary reminder that it's not enough to "do good", it has to be sustainable.
I've got actively involved in several special schools. Prior's Court has been the major one, both financially and in time and effort (it took 22 hectic months from inspiration to opening, five years overall) and is the largest of my charitable projects. It has 60 day and residential pupils all with both autism and moderate to severe (most people would say profound) learning disability. Few have any speech. Perhaps you can guess that the pupil profile was modelled on my Giles. An Adult Learning Centre has just opened with six students, another six to start in a year's time.
I'd been inspired into this by a special school in the States. In true businesslike form, I commissioned a feasibility study as to where potential pupils with autism were living (pretty well everywhere) and where the schools were. The worst shortfall was in the Midlands so that's where the property consultants started looking. We eventually acquired a 50 acre site with a Queen Anne listed building. Not in the Midlands but just up the A33 in Newbury, Berkshire.
Resources for Autism, Music for Children with Autism, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Autism, Parents Autism Campaign for Education, Allergy Induced Autism, the Economic Aspects of Autism, autism studies in several universities, whenever there was a gap in autism provision I tried to help. Not a lot of pattern - all quality, all try to be a leader, each is aimed to be independent of me (financially and managerially) as soon as possible. Not businesses but businesslike.
For example, bi-lingual Wales is particularly difficult for people with autism where communication, or its lack, is so important. So I founded and funded Autism Cymru which has guided the Welsh Assembly to the world's first ever national strategy for autism. There's also now a chair in autism at Cardiff University.
The Shirley Foundation sponsored the world's first disability conference on the web. That led to the portal site Autismconnect with users from places so remote that you need an atlas to locate them.
Some charities are distressingly amateur. I give capital as well as income. I tend towards funding infrastructure – while most givers veer towards projects.
The Shirley Foundation's work is targeted to be pioneering – we never just do more of the same, no matter how worthy – so it includes a lot of research work and trailblazing new charities. Pioneering – and strategic. Projects that if successful (and pioneering projects can and do fail – and if they all succeeded I'd reckon we were not taking enough risk) but if successful, make a real difference.
I've always tried to be generous according to my means. Generous in time and skills as well as money. In recent years the money has been significant – wonderfully effective. Donations, large and small – the ones always regular to allow a bit of planning. And always accompanied by involvement – it's demeaning to "just" give money – and anyway one wants the fun, the adrenalin buzz, of commitment. If you don't commit, you're just taking up space.
Nothing stands still and my foundation has evolved over the years. IT is no longer part of its mission (lots of people in that space) and the focus is now solely autism.
My personal belief is that giving needs to be proactive, ambitious and focussed on results. My aim is always to be professional, to be efficient and to be effective. Over the years my giving has become more and more strategic: But I continue to have a load of fun! I meet more interesting people, travel purposefully to more interesting places and feel more fulfilled as a giver than I ever did in my business years.
My company took 25 years before it paid a dividend but some people have made their wealth overnight or over year and want their giving to make a difference on similar timescales.
Because giving is a social and cultural activity not merely a financial transaction, I never just write a cheque (doing so demeans both giver and receiver). Money alone is not the answer. Sure, giving money can be a compassionate act of detachment. I try to make it a committed act of love. Starting with Kingwood, that hands-on support service for my son, autism is a focus of my life.
I put as much effort into learning to give money away wisely – and take just as much satisfaction – as I got from earning it in the first place. Once classed as the seventh wealthiest woman in Britain, trailing HM The Queen in the female Rich List (the arithmetic was doubtless wrong), I'm proud to have given away enough to take me out of the Rich List.
Giving is now what I do. It connects me to the future, and it gives me enormous pleasure. Perhaps some of you will follow my example. Linked to the altruistic, it's the right thing to do, "giving makes me feel good". That feel-good factor is a scientific fact. Brain scans show that the pleasure centres of the brain are stimulated when we act unselfishly.
If you forget everything else, remember that the pleasure of giving is the essence of my message.
Gone are the days when wealthy women had always married or inherited their money. My giving is not different because I'm a woman. But I do care about issues and am 'careful' about them. While it's nice to be thanked, my focus is "how much difference is this going to make" not on "what recognition will I get". The giving spectrum moves from no reward whatsoever, through acknowledgement, prestige and fun to tangible returns and a sniff of immortality.
* * * * * * *
After a number of philanthropic projects, perhaps it was inevitable that I should be asked to serve as the British government's Ambassador of Philanthropy in 2009/10. That was the first-ever Ambassador for Philanthropy. Historically, Britain was first in philanthropy. It's now second (to the States with its go-getting culture) but could take the lead again.
Philanthropy is always about values, not size or value of gift. It starts with feelings and dreams so I pledged to inspire the idea that giving is a pleasurable act of desire and compassion, to help, change or challenge any aspect of society, by raising the bar on our capacity to be generous.
As the Founding Ambassador for Philanthropy, it soon became clear to me that philanthropists needed to have a Voice independent of those organisations they give to – so that they can influence the dialogue on all things philanthropic.
And to broadcast that voice to government. To the media. And to a lesser extent to the charities.
You can see some of those prepared to speak out about why and how they give on the website: ambassadorsforphilanthropy.com. It was re-launched as a social enterprise just three days ago. Motivations are unique with each philanthropist story different, with colourful images and experiences. Even the reticent Brits have evolved from 'we don't talk about money or what we do with it'.
Giving can become a vibrant part of everyday life for everyone. Mass technology reaches people in a way that appeals to them. Do have a look at that website: www.ambassadorsforphilanthropy.com.
One target is for countries round the world to appoint their own Ambassador of Philanthropy – to unleash philanthropy by giving philanthropists a voice worldwide. Both the White House and the Clinton Global Initiative are getting involved and overall it seems that national Ambassadors for Philanthropy are an idea whose time has come.
* * * * * * *
Let me try and generalise. Wherever you go it's impossible to ignore the reflections of our giving past. We remember the "big" names, the Oxford one I know is Gilbert Sheldon effectively the founder of the university. But all of us can help build dreams, right wrongs... Haig is remembered not for his militancy but rather by Poppy Day. Andrew Carnegie is remembered not as a robber baron in America but for all the libraries he supported. It was he who made the memorable statement "those who die rich, die disgraced".
There's no ought or should about philanthropy. Just "want to". It's also great fun. Community Foundations are wonderfully effective in channelling large and small donations to appropriate local causes. Hugely satisfying as you can see the results of your giving as you move around your local community. The local cats home is just as worthy of support for the homeless and dispossessed.
* * * * * * *
The global economy shapes us to appreciate both people and things for their market values. So what drives the giving spirit?
Most of us are taught as children to share and to give. This becomes important and significant in our lives as we get older; when the intangibles of life are really more significant than the material. The gradual understanding that the world and everything and everyone in it are interconnected, fuels the longing to help, to share the riches in life.
Some mega wealthy people want to limit the amount their heirs inherit. I have no heirs so feel free to give all my money away.
Money is wonderfully effective but, if we are not to patronise the beneficiaries of its benevolence, the passion and the human touch must also be there. I try always to remember how awful it was to have to accept charity and be expected to be grateful. So I work hard to give without demeaning people, without patronising them. Altho' I mainly give in a business-like strategic way, it is always with a warm heart and with a warm hand - what's the fun in writing gifts into my last Will and Testament? I want to give in my lifetime.
Giving is a private expression of personal beliefs. Perhaps the motives hardly matter. The fact is that people give and it's the birthright and defining characteristic of the human species. Buddhists believe that whatever we choose to focus on, to tend, to nurture, to love - will thrive. The seeds that grow in the garden are those we attend to, cultivate and appreciate. Sikhs believe in life in three equal dimensions, one of which is sharing one's time, talents and earnings with the less fortunate. The Quaker Society of Friends gives quietly generally anonymously. Muslims give "in charity" to individuals rather than to charitable organisations (much more difficult) and - like many Jews - think of giving as a duty not an option. The various denominations of religion have equally valid givers. The important thing is that they all give - many by tithe. Giving to someone to help their self-sufficiency is viewed as more valuable than giving which might engender a dependency culture. It's justice in an unfair world.
John Stuart Mill said: "Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness... aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way". So it has been with me. I am doing what is in me to do. I'm so lucky to have something worthwhile to get up for each morning! The more I give away, the richer my life seems to become.
The golden age of philanthropy was in the late 19th century. Its British nadir followed the creation of the welfare state in 1948. Its 21st century rebirth is demonstrated by current scholarly interest.
There's now a one year full-time MBA in philanthropy here at the Said Business School which includes the Centre for Social Entrepreneurship supported by Jeff Skoll, the first President of eBay.
Social entrepreneurship aims to get at the root of a global problem; have a proven concept; and work collaboratively in effective partnerships with scalable business models. Skoll Scholars demonstrate optimism and passionate commitment.
There are now several degree courses in fundraising and a masters degree in Grantmaking, Philanthropy and Social Investment. This is at London's Cass Business School - which leads Kent, Southampton, Edinburgh and Strathclyde in the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy formally launched in October 2008.
The rise of interest in philanthropy also extends to digital giving. Oxford's Internet Institute held a seminar on E philanthropy last year, since when the technology has moved yet further to allow giving over mobile phones worldwide. This has proved particularly effective in disaster appeals.
Legislation and government policy can make a significant difference to the climate of philanthropy. There was my own appointment as the Founding Ambassador of Philanthropy in 2009, the Green Paper on Giving last year and the White Paper earlier this year balance the Coalition's Big Society with its focus on volunteering.
* * * * * * *
Giving is learned early, perhaps as part of family tradition. Devout people give dutifully to satisfy divine will. Enlightened self interest is when we give to others and so, indirectly, help ourselves; perhaps as insurance – to Age UK for possible future benefit ourselves. This combines with the altruistic: it's the right thing to do "giving makes me feel good". (That's a scientific fact: brain scans show that the pleasure centres in the brain are stimulated when we act unselfishly). I've said how my life of service is some sort of repayment or assuagement of survivor guilt; I've been given so much by strangers, collective and individual, what else can I do but give?
Recent research shows that corporate giving not only helps staff recruitment, retention and morale but is directly good for business. The positive branding – and brand is as brand does – also leads to improved sales – new customers, more loyal customers, buying more.
Another example of enlightened self-interest comes with reputation – achieving: "fame and good report in this transitory world". Or as entry into some elite group.
Last November, Oxford's University Campaign reached a billion pounds. The Chancellor has a Court of Benefactors for major donors to the campaign but it's the many alumni giving small amounts that have made it happen.
Philanthropists don't give to be thanked – but they certainly notice if they are not thanked. There's a plaque in the House of Commons giving a public Thank You to Britain for taking ten thousand Kindertransport children in, and we see such thanks in buildings and organisations throughout Oxford. The shields in college windows mark benefactors from the time that every person of capacity had armorial bearings.
So the giving spectrum moves from no reward whatsoever, through acknowledgement, prestige and fun to tangible returns and a sniff of immortality. Something which marks "I was here. I was here". The motives hardly matter, the important thing is that we all give.
Why is giving always high on the list of virtues? I guess that's because anyone can do it. We might not be particularly "moral"; we might be partial to a drink too many; or have a roving eye; prefer light reading to philosophy. We may not see ourselves as all that spiritual. But we can all give.
So it isn't that money is bad or good but rather our interpretation of it. Your relationship with money doesn't have to be disconnected from you as a person. It doesn't matter how much or how little, money can provide joyful reward with integrity; it's the conduit for all our hopes and fears.
We create our most lasting legacy not in what we leave behind but in the way we live - especially the way we live with money. I challenge you to let your money stand for "who you are". You are judged, and judge yourself, by what you choose to do. By what you choose to do for others. By the reach of your compassion.
Each person needs to think through what they want to achieve with their donations. And about the social impact.
Ladies and gentlemen, we learn from stories. They have influence. Giving is contagious. That's why I've shared my story. Giving, giving back – is recognised as one of the mega trends of the 21st century. I'm so glad to have had this opportunity of addressing its 21st century challenges.
Copyright September 2011
Dame Stephanie Shirley
Let It GoFind Out More
Articles, Blogs, Press
Find Out More
Click to see the articles, press and media releases from around the web
EventsFind Out More
Oliver Burkeman, Guardian journalist and author
Let It Go
Buy the Book
Buy The BookFind Out More
Find out where you can buy this inspiring story
Stuart Ongley, SGO Music
ReviewsFind Out More
Read reviews from the Guardian to the Financial Times
Find out more about the
ardent philanthropist at www.steveshirley.com