Let IT Go

National Trust Scotland Women of Achievement Luncheon, Scotland

Good afternoon, Ladies.

The great Rabbie Burns wrote that "the purpose of life is a life of purpose". I'm an IT entrepreneur turned ardent philanthropist and this year serving as the national Ambassador for Philanthropy. I'm not party political but am a patriot. I came to this country as an unaccompanied child refugee in 1939, stateless, penniless and without a word of English. And love this country with a passion perhaps only someone who had lost their human rights can feel.

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My giving was very much aligned with a vigorous career with my own software house which was a company of women, a company for women. After many years, Equal Opportunities legislation disallowed our positive discrimination. So we let the men in "if they were good enough". I was also the first woman this, the only woman that. And more than a token woman. Looking back, I see a clear link between the practical advancement of women and the work of women philanthropists.

Success allowed my husband and I to improve our lifestyle, but we didn't wish to change it completely. So we live relatively modestly with my time in retirement spent almost entirely on charitable activities. I've got a super lifestyle - actively busy with interesting people on worthwhile projects. Like the Quakers, I believe in the beauty of work when we do it properly, and in humility.

Gone are the days when wealthy women had always inherited or married their money. In any case, the relationship between partners has changed. Bill Gates, for one, stresses that Melinda is an equal partner in their foundation.

All my wealth comes from my software company. 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 one of the first publicly to commit to give 1% of my company's pre-tax profits to charity. I also gave shares to the staff (a bit like the Tullis Russell Group in Fife). When we floated in the main exchange there were over 70 millionaires, women millionaires. Many of whom began to think in terms of giving something back.

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The Shirley Foundation is:

Pioneering – no matter how worthy, we don't just do more of the same and Strategic – by which I mean that if successful (pioneering projects can and do fail and if we had 100% success, I'd reckon we were not taking sufficient risk) but if successful make a real difference.

In the two fields I know and care about: Information Technology (my professional discipline) and autism which was my late son's disorder. 40 projects overall totalling well over £50m with 5 projects taking 90%. The big ones are those I've instigated with the foundation being the prime funder.

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I feel that giving has made my wealth significant. Giving is what I do and it gives me enormous pleasure. I hope to encourage one or two of you to follow my example.

Once classed as the seventh wealthiest woman in Britain (the arithmetic was doubtless wrong) I'm proud to have given away enough to take me out of the Rich List. There's a Women's Giving Circle who pool donations and then choose what projects to fund. In general, women seem to give more than men to overseas causes. My giving is not any different because I'm a woman. Tho' I do care about issues and am 'careful' about them.

I've always tried to be generous according to my means. Generous in time and skills as well as money. Sure, in recent years the money came to be significant – wonderfully effective. But the passion and human touch must also be there, so as not to patronise beneficiaries. I know from having received charity myself and expected to be grateful, how easy it is to patronise. So I give with a warm hand and liberal spirit.

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As Ambassador for Philanthropy I want to galvanise and encourage giving.

We're all motivated by pleasure. Each person knows if it's children or disability or animals or green issues or the developing world, or the elderly... that interest us.

My pledge as Ambassador for Philanthropy is:

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.

I meet more interesting people, travel purposefully to more interesting places and feel more fulfilled giving money away than I ever did in the years spent making it. Indeed, the more money I give away, the richer my life seems to become.

Copyright April 2010

Dame Stephanie Shirley
Ambassador for Philanthropy
Cabinet Office – The Third Sector
2nd Floor, Admiralty Arch, South Side
The Mall

Tel: 0207 0960 1940
Email: damestephanie@ambassadorforphilanthropy.com
Website: www.ambassadorforphilanthropy.com

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The word 'inspiring' is greatly overused, but Stephanie Shirley's story is one of those rare cases in which it truly applies. This book is an extraordinary tale of creativity and resilience, and of the power of well-targeted philanthropy to transform the world.
Oliver Burkeman, Guardian journalist and author

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I feel lucky to count myself one of Steve’s friends, and I am so happy that, by sharing her story with us in the pages of this book, she will inevitably acquire many more admirers and fans. We may never be able to achieve a fraction of her success and influence, but the example of her generosity and unflagging attempts to use her hard won fortune to do good will inspire all of us to do just that bit more to leave the world a slightly better place than we found it.
Jane Asher


A wonderful, inspirational, living, breathing life of a book.
Stuart Ongley, SGO Music


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