Saturday, February 5, 2011

Love Of Mankind

Like a football match, work-days are also games of two halves. The morning was spent dealing with a very challenging issue in an organisation in which I volunteer. I emerged into the afternoon feeling like a squeezed dishcloth, hoping for the day to be over.

The afternoon, however, provided an incredible contrast, as uplifting and reviving as the morning was difficult and upsetting. The difference was a group of three young people from Walthamstow, east London, who, together, have founded a new organisation called Love of Mankind. While the name sounds a bit OTT or religious, it is actually the English translation of the Greek word Philanthropy. Love of Mankind is one of the first - if not THE first- philanthropy foundation set up in an English FE college.

Three of its four founders met me at the Commonwealth Club in London. Saima, Abu and Shezad all attend George Monroux college in Walthamstow. They are all 18-19 and have set up LoM with the intention of it being both a way to generate funding for social projects, to place local young people in top firms for work experience and to raise the standing of their college by establishing the Philanthropy project as a Department in their college.

Two things really grabbed me most about this particular group. The first was their savvy in putting together a group of supporters from corporates, the media and social sectors. They used their time with me to extract, in a very charming way, my best contacts in the media and venture-philanthropy world, plus a commitment to write 350 words for their blog. They turned up with prepared questions, focus and a welcome respect for getting all done in the time. I was impressed just by that.

The other thing that grabbed me was their bold appropriation of the idea of philanthropy. In the UK, we tend to associate philanthropy with old white billionaires who try to fix their legacy by giving away some of their money. Well, these lot are under 20, British-Asians with no money of their own - but the chutzpah to set themselves up as a philanthropic foundation for their own part of London. I just like it.

There was one potential elephant in the room which I broached early on - what would happen when these three bright sparks went to university or whatever. To that, they replied that they weren't planning on doing this - the £9000 fees appear to have put off at least these three. All were carrying on this this after college, one, possibly, on a near full-time basis. This, for me, differentiated them strongly from the many sixth-form societies who fancy a bit of CV enhancement on their way to the Russell Group.

This lot, I sensed, were of a different order and quality. I will be very surprised if all of them do not become very successful entrepreneurs, either commercial or social. You get an eye for that quality, even in young people. When I think of the slightly hopeless-case I was at 18-19 and compare myself with them I cannot but be impressed. Given the lack of silver-spoons, they showed incredible confidence, breadth and ambition. I take my hat off to them - then go home to happily do the fifteen things they have persuaded me to do for them!

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