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LEG A CY


“The difference between the wealthy and


the poor, and I’ve been poor, is widening. There is plenty of need.”


In the wake of the Oxfam sexual misconduct scandal, what is your view of the philanthropy sector today?


“There are many charities who do very good work, but have somehow lost that link between themselves and their beneficiaries and for that matter the greater world outside. That is a corporate thing that happens. Companies get into that state, not necessarily with moral ineptitude, but they get sloppy and they get bureaucratic. I think one has to remember that mostly they do good work.”


Is there any sort of shake up that you would like to see in the philanthropy sector? Or is it a case of getting back to its core


values? “I think it’s concentrating on its core values. What has happened, in a sense, is as business have become more social, what used to be just corporate social responsibility is now really much part of branding of a business. It has to meet some social need and have some social purpose in order to attract staff and in order to keep customers. “It is much more than just corporate social


responsibility now, it is really wrapped up in the business. At the same time, charities have become more business-like. We do not survive if we don’t, nobody gives us money if we don’t.”


What is your advice to family business leaders who are interested in giving back?


“Usually I say start small, start local and on things you care about. You can see what is happening to that old people’s home as you’re walking through to the station every day, so it’s local. “Charity has had the reputation of being


amateurish. Some of it is, and when it is, you shouldn’t support it, because it’s a waste of money and energy. They haven’t done any research and they don’t know


ISSUE 74 | 2018


Top: Dame Stephanie Shirley with her son Giles


Opposite: Dame


Stephanie Shirley was a pioneer at the dawn of computer technology


I SAY


START SMALL, START LOCAL AND ON THINGS YOU CARE ABOUT


that somebody in the next county is doing something absolutely comparable. It drives me frantic. “I think it’s more like the


marketing of a business. You’ve got to know the sector. Worldwide the state is now withdrawing from so many things. Are the charities going to pick up that slack to save the day, should we be doing that? Most philanthropists have got a clear rule: we don’t support things that are rightly the state’s responsibility. “If you get chief executives


[in the charitable sector], they have to be more than hardworking and nice and honest. They do have to know what they are doing. “With autism, the need is


endless really. This is why strategic work, like medical research that will eventually make more impact,[is important].


“What I do see more of is this measurement and impact


investment, or impact assessment. It takes quite a long time to do. I’ve just done it after 20 years and it’s hard to make contact even with the people I was working with. They have all changed, or nobody remembers it at all.


When you look back at your career in philanthropy, what feelings come to the surface?


“I wish I had more time and more energy. Prior’s Court school [a specialist UK residential school for children with autism] that I set up took five years. At the time that’s all I did, that’s what I dreamt about. That’s a chunk of your life. “I get so much satisfaction having done that and, in a sense,


that charity is probably my legacy. I used to think that my company was my legacy—it lasted for 45 years. It had a high profile, changed its name a couple of times, but it’s now just a bit of social history. You can see it almost is gone. Whereas Prior’s Court has 600 staff and 100 pupils. The charity will be there in 100 years’ time. That is my legacy. It has got its board of governors, it has got its HR, psychology and nursing. I’m so proud of it. Including startup losses, that was £30 million. It was the biggest project I’ve ever done, and it certainly gives me the most pleasure.”


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