It was a great honour to be the keynote speaker alongside future Lord Mayor Roger Gifford at last Monday’s launch of the City Funding Network, a key part of the City Philanthropy - Wealth of Opportunity campaign. More than 60 young City professionals and established leaders including Clare Thomas, Chief Grants Officer of the City Bridge Trust (City Philanthropy’s key backer), got together for a “good night out” to support philanthropy at Warner Brothers in Holborn. A private screening of the new Batman film, nearly £27,000 raised after a Dragon’s Den-style pitching competition for three fantastic charities, and lots of socialising and networking over a few glasses – a fantastic return for one evening by any measure, and indicative of a growing trend among younger City executives who want to do good not just do well, and have a great time too!
Speaking just four days before the Olympics finally kicked-off, I was proud to tell the audience about how I got an early taste of the Olympic spirit thanks to philanthropy. I carried the London2012 Olympic Torch on 20 June in the Yorkshire market town of Bedale, a few miles from my home town of York. Although a great distance from the City of London, the vital role that philanthropy played in getting me to Bedale was a great inspiration as I carried the Torch in front of thousands in the Yorkshire sunshine on day 33 of the UK-wide Torch Relay. I was chosen as an Olympic Torchbearer because of my work as President of Magic Breakfast, the UK’s leading school breakfast club charity. Magic Breakfast provides free, healthy breakfasts (cereal, bagels, porridge and juice) to 6,000 primary school children every morning in over 210 primary schools across the country, including over 100 schools in London. In the shadow of the City, thousands of children still go to school hungry every morning, so we focus on Tower Hamlets, Newham and Hackney (all Olympic Boroughs) as well as Westminster and Southwark. Having suffered from child hunger myself, I know that a good breakfast improves children’s school attendance, concentration in class, exam results, and encourages them to lead healthier lives as adults.
I also know that philanthropy – and the key role that young professionals can play – is key to the ongoing success of charities like Magic Breakfast, the centuries-old reputation of the City as a supporter of good causes, and the growing international reputation of London as a global hub for philanthropy. Like many young professionals, I give my time (around 10-15 hours per week), skills, network of contacts, and money to good causes I believe in. And I have done so since I was young: volunteering first as a mentor to underprivileged children with the Inner Cities Young People's Project in London whilst still a sixth former, and then fundraising for African schools whilst studying at Cambridge University. Since coming to work in the City in corporate finance in 2006, I’ve continued my passion for philanthropy and supporting charities and good causes. It’s helped me to get some board-level experience and develop a range of business skills from leadership and project management to strategy and finance. It’s helped me build a wide and deep network of peers as well as senior leaders including Roger and Clare, in this country and abroad. It’s helped me raise my profile in the workplace, in my industry and in the media. But above all, being philanthropic has given me the opportunity to make a difference, to have social impact and to change children’s lives for the better. I am determined to put – and keep – philanthropy at the heart of my career, and I know that most Generation Y professionals share my passion. For our generation, doing good not just doing well is central to how we live in our professional and personal lives. For us, philanthropy is built-in not just bolt on – a key catalyst to success at the start of our City careers, not just something we start doing during the middle or at the end of our time in the Square Mile.
Magic Breakfast itself is a great example of City philanthropy in action. We are lucky to be supported by a wide range of the City’s most successful businesses, including Morgan Stanley, Clifford Chance, LCH.Clearnet and publishing giant Pearson, owners of the Financial Times. We also benefit from City workers contributing their time, skills and expertise, from fundraising to volunteering at our breakfast clubs. Most of our hungry children come from very underprivileged inner-city backgrounds, and it raises their aspirations and broadens their horizons when a young City professional tells them about their job in the Square Mile whilst sharing a bagel. It gives a hungry child hope when they hear about how many of today’s City professionals themselves started from humble beginnings. All this tells me that the City’s passion for philanthropy is stronger than ever, even in tough economic times. And with the City’s help, we are making great progress, last year Magic Breakfast won the Prime Minister’s Big Society Award for outstanding charities, Conservative Party Co-Chairman Lord Feldman praised us as “inspirational”, and this year we’re expanding the number of schools and children we reach. But we couldn’t have achieved any of this without the generosity of the City’s philanthropists, young and old. Your encouragement, inspiration and support have been key to our success and growth.
The “City Philanthropy - Wealth of Opportunity” campaign is designed to accelerate this trend and get even more City professionals engaged in charitable giving, philanthropy and supporting charities. So, as we all head into a busy Olympic summer, I won’t just be cheering on Jessica Ennis and the rest of Team GB. I’ll also be cheering for the City’s philanthropy and celebrating their Olympian efforts in supporting small, high-impact charities like Magic Breakfast. Through their support for charities and good causes, the City is inspiring thousands of young people, and showing the world that a huge part of what makes the City – and our country – great, is the generosity and philanthropy of our philanthropists. I was proud to carry the Olympic Torch for you and Magic Breakfast!
Alan Mak is President & Trustee of Magic Breakfast and co-author of the Next Generation Vision for Financial Services. He speaks regularly on philanthropy, responsible capitalism, and Gen Y leadership. Follow Alan on Twitter: @AlanMakUK