Young, Minted & Giving Back

Article which appeared in The Herald, 6th June 2009

By Raj Lalli Gill

As a new breed of crusading philanthropists emerges in Scotland, Raj Lalli Gill meets three of the movement's to discover their reasons for giving.
 
The businessman and philanthropist Sir Tom Hunter, often cited as "Scotland's first home-grown billionaire", this year "resigned" from the annual Sunday Times Rich List. His reasoning, according to his spokesperson, is that the money he has accumulated is not for his own use and therefore should not be labelled as "personal wealth".
Hunter eventually plans to donate somewhere in the region of £1 billion through his "adventure philanthropy" charity, The Hunter Foundation, which states that it aims to tackle "the root causes of societal problems through holistic and systemic interventions".

In this, Hunter is the poster boy for emerging entrepreneurs who think in a similar way - people who have made their money and now want to create more wealth in order to bring about effective and positive social change.

Like Hunter, many of these crusading business figures are members of The Entrepreneurial Exchange, Scotland's leading organisation for ambitious "growth oriented" entrepreneurs. The Hamilton-based private members club was established in 1994 with 50 founding members. It now has some 450 members heading-up companies employing more than 270,000 people, with a collective turnover of more than £20bn. Those who join must show potential for significant financial growth, as well as a focus on tackling persistent social and economic problems.

But how to bring about this social change? And why? We speak to three Scottish-born Exchange members to find the answer.

Azeem Ibrahim

IT READS like a film script. Brought up in a council house homes in Glasgow, Chicago, London and Dubai inaugurated into the Sunday Times Scottish Rich List at 31 years old personal fortune of around £23 million. And it gets better. The Glasgow-born entrepreneur Azeem Ibrahim, who is chairman and CEO of ECM Holdings - a conglomerate of six finance companies including a private online bank and a private-equity hedge fund - also has a social conscience. He devotes about a quarter of his working week to charity projects, to which he has so far donated an estimated £3 million.

Beyond simply wielding the wallet, Ibrahim is also involved in changing society at a policy level. Last January, he was appointed by Gordon Brown to a social mobility commission charged with finding ways of getting more people from poor backgrounds into professions dominated by the middle class and privately educated.

"People see me as a man of means, but that doesn't mean I'm racing around town in a Porsche," says the businessman, taking time out of the Entrepreneurial Exchange spring conference at Gleneagles hotel. "It's true I have created wealth, but with wealth comes enormous responsibility. I've been aware of giving from a young age. It is one of the pillars of the Islamic faith that you must give a percentage of your earnings to charitable causes, but that's not necessarily my motivation. My first hands-on charity work started at the height of the Bosnian war when I was only 17 and went out there to help on various projects.

"Later, while studying at Cambridge, I met Sejad Mekic, a fellow student from Bosnia, and together we set up the Benevolence Fund, which sponsors high-achieving Bosnian students to take up places on postgraduate courses in Europe."

There is only one way to bring about social change, believes Ibrahim. "For me, it's through education," he says. "Our Bosnian fund is very elitist. We hand-pick only the best students, people we know are going to realise their full potential through further education. When they graduate, they take up key positions in society, as politicians, surgeons or diplomats - they are the next generation of leaders."

A laudable pursuit, but why Bosnia? "It's quite simple," he says. "My business partner, Sejad, is from Bosnia and we both have a great knowledge of the country. It's in Europe, and we have a responsibility to our neighbours. Because my partner is from Bosnia we have more cultural awareness and control over what's happening."

Ibrahim is involved to greater and lesser degrees with several other charities, but the one closest to his heart, and named after his late father, is The Ibrahim Foundation, established in 2008. After inviting applications from the public, it provides funding to "pioneering" community projects.

But giving money isn't everything. Donating valuable commodities such as time and skills can be more effective than chucking money at good causes, believes Ibrahim. His advice to others is simply to "go for it".

"Anybody in any sphere of life has something to give, whether it's monetary or otherwise," he says. "Set yourself goals and you will get amazing satisfaction when you realise them, as I have done. That's all the payback you need."

To his detractors - people who suspect he has ulterior motives for giving to charity, such as gaining tax benefits through his philanthropic pursuits - Ibrahim has a straightforward response. "No matter what you do, there will always be people who criticise," he says. "You could eradicate world poverty but there will always be someone, somewhere, who will criticise you for one reason or another. As far as I'm concerned, those people are irrelevant - I pay no attention to them. I finance my projects with my own personal wealth, and I am at liberty to spend it in whichever manner I choose."

"I feel I have been extremely fortunate," he says. "I have the ability to do these things, and the resources, so I do them. I can make a positive contribution to society and I feel an obligation to give back as much as I possibly can. It's as simple as that."

Mary Gorman

Born in Scotland to a working class family, Mary Gorman could easily congratulate herself for ending up in an impressive villa in the Renfrewshire village of Bridge of Weir. Frankly, she doesn't have time.

She is too busy in her roles as charity campaigner and business consultant to a range of companies including Lucid PR, Obsidian Communications, Truphone and Quintessentially. The 41-year-old also operates a small property development business, CMG Scotland, and works closely with her husband, Chris Gorman, a successful serial entrepreneur and a founding shareholder in UK mobile phone retailer DX Communications. Add to all this bringing up four children between the ages of five and 18, and business managing her son's pop band, Tamikas Treehouse, and you can see why.

Central to the family's lifestyle, though, is the charity work, she says. "Our real foray into giving began in 1996 when we sold 25% of our company, DX Communications. We made a lot of money from that, which enabled us to buy the house of our dreams and establish a solid foundation for the future with our children. When Chris and I sold the rest of the company in 1998, we had more money than we could have ever imagined. We felt we had done well and wanted to help people who were less fortunate than us."

Gorman's interest in charity was kick-started in 1999 by a friend who was in the process of organising the annual Women Of Influence Awards for the National Children's Home charity (renamed Action For Children).

"I got involved," says Gorman. "I embraced the charity and the charity embraced me. The breadth of services they offered to disadvantaged children really impressed me. I did a lot of fundraising for them and they appointed me as the charity's very first ambassador in Scotland. Since then I have become involved at a much higher level. I will jump through fiery hoops to get things done for the charity. Ten years on, I am still passionate about the work the charity does. Action For Children ticks all the boxes for me."

Since her career is "on the back burner", Gorman has more time these days to devote to charity, although she struggles to put an exact figure on it. She is also currently involved in the Touching Tiny Lives campaign for the charity Action Medical Research - a move inspired, in part, by the fact her youngest daughter, Lia, was born prematurely.

"Sometimes, raising money for research is more difficult than actually being reactive to problems that are out there," she explains. "Action For Children has historically been a reactive service and Action Medical Research is a proactive research foundation, which is a totally different angle. But they both appeal to me."

Gorman claims to be hands-on with both charities. "I do put a lot of time and effort into my charitable roles," she says. "When you see how the work affects children in such a positive way, that's all the payback you need. I look at my own children. They are fortunate and much loved. They've got good health and are growing up in a wonderful environment. My children have a future, so I want to do as much as I can so that these other children can have futures."

Jane Wylie-Roberts

Owning the successful Scottish recruitment agency Stafffinders, founded by her father in the 1970s, and bringing up two children under 10 is a full time job. Jane Wylie-Roberts still manages to find time, though, to devote to her charities of choice.

"I first became involved in charitable works during my time as a pupil at Gordonstoun," says the 38-year-old who lives in Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire. Every Wednesday afternoon we had something called service', and I chose community' as my topic. We had our own swimming pool at the school so we would bring in children with physical disabilities and teach them how to swim. Otherwise, we would go out to nursing homes and help with the old people. I really enjoyed it. There were many bonuses - you made great friendships, and you could make a positive impact on people's lives. It pushed me to do things I would never have thought possible."

Wylie-Roberts later became involved with The Rotary Club of Paisley, which at the time had a "no females" policy, and was introduced to Vision Aid Overseas by a fellow member.

"Vision Aid sends spectacles to countries like Malawi, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia - places where there's a distinct lack of eyecare," she explains. "I wondered if there was a way I could get used glasses and send them abroad. People never throw out old glasses. I don't know if it's because of the cost of them but they tend to just sit in a drawer gathering dust. It was a time consuming exercise but, in many ways, it was just so simple. I wear contact lenses and I know that I am blind as a bat without them. And I know what a huge difference it makes when I can see."

Her work with Vision Aid was recognised by the Queen and she was invited to Buckingham Palace for an event to celebrate people who had done good deeds for the nation. She has recently restarted her used glasses campaign in partnership with Vision Aid.

Wylie-Roberts encourages her Stafffinders employees to choose which charities the company should donate to at its annual fundraising event. "Last year they chose Scottish charity Quarriers," she says. "The staff felt that when we were donating cash to the bigger charities we didn't know exactly how the money was being spent. Quarriers needed cash for a sensory garden for their respite home. Children who are in unfortunate situations use it as a refuge. It really tugged at our heart strings."

Why get involved in the first place? "I believe that when you go to bed you have to feel as if you have achieved something that day," she says. "Some days it's a big thing and others it's something small. But you always want to know you have done something that will make a difference."

"A lot of people are successful and make a lot of money, but with wealth comes responsibility," she continues. "Just hoarding it in a bank account and thinking lucky me' would seem quite empty. If you've got staff and a name that people recognise then you should put those elements together and try to make some sort of difference. It gives you purpose. We are all going through difficult times but when you've got something like this on the other side, it makes life seem a bit more balanced."