David and Claudia Harding were the recipients of the 2015 Beacon Award for City Philanthropy sponsored by the City of London Corporation’s Charity, City Bridge Trust through our project City Philanthropy – A Wealth of Opportunity. Harding founded Winton Capital, now Winton Global Investment Management, which has grown to be one of the world’s largest hedge funds. Harding is now risking what he calls “a reasonable” multi-million pound sum to try to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.
Problem-solving and risk-taking has earned David Harding a fortune as a fund manager; he is now risking what he calls “a reasonable” multi-million pound sum of it to try to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. By using maths to beat the financial markets, Winton Capital, founded by Harding in 1997, now Winton Global Investment Management, has become one of the world’s largest hedge funds. Previous to that Harding co-founded alternative investment fund Adam Harding and Lueck, which is still the cornerstone of the FTSE listed Man Group.
In his philanthropic work Harding is committed to the notion of risk and the application of data, mathematics and science to address issues around sustainability, disease and much more besides through The Winton Charitable Foundation and the David and Claudia Harding Foundation, established in 2005 and 2007 respectively. “Maths sounds terribly dry but actually contributes to making life better. Though failure is painful, if I don’t have some donations that are not successful, then I am not taking enough risk. It is something you have to take on board; you cannot have a 100% success rate,” says Harding.
In 2006 the Winton Charitable Foundation endowed a Chair in the Public Understanding of Risk at Cambridge University. Harding is an alumnus, graduating from Cambridge in 1982 with a first class honours degree in natural sciences specialising in theoretical physics. He became the patron of the Harding Center for Risk Literacy at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin which opened in 2009. In February 2011 Harding sponsored the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books for the next five years that celebrates the best new popular science writing for a general adult readership.
Though Harding denies a passion for anything other than his wife and children, an emotional connection with Cambridge University and also his Oxford home has been a motivator for donations. He has sponsored the Winton Institute for Monetary History at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and recently set up a £600k fund through the Oxfordshire Community Foundation.
In 2011 Harding pledged £20m to establish the Winton Programme for the Physics of Sustainability at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University. The research programme applies physics to meet the growing demands on the earth’s natural resources.
This work aims to revolutionise energy consumption, such as creating new kinds of batteries. Its quest is to find a missing molecule that will turn sunlight directly into energy in a way that is cheap and sustainable enough to be a real alternative power source. “We need to find the equivalent of silicon technology for energy; that would really crack the problem,” says Harding.
In 2012 Harding joined the Create the Change Campaign board, which was created by Cancer Research UK and tasked with raising over £100m for The Francis Crick Institute, the largest biomedical research centre in Europe. Harding’s donation of £5m will fund a bioinformatics department, applying computer science, mathematics, and information theory to organise and analyse complex genetic data in the fight against cancer.
With the aim of inspiring a new generation to love numbers, in 2014 Harding made a £5m gift to the Science Museum to fund a new maths gallery that will explore the complex ideas of mathematicians since the turn of the 17th century. The gallery, to be named after Harding, is predicted to cost £7.5m in total and will open in 2016. Harding says: “Maths has never had a great image in our society. If we can do anything to make people more excited then it’s got to be a step in the right direction. I think they can create something really nice and hopefully influence the next generation of school kids to be less maths averse. If you have more training in maths it can only help your life.” Science Museum director Ian Blatchford describes it as a “game-changing gift that will inspire further transformational philanthropy”.
Harding says of his philanthropy: “Giving money has been surprisingly satisfactory; you meet people you wouldn’t meet and enjoy experiences you wouldn’t have otherwise enjoyed.”
In terms of personal reward he says one of his most enjoyable experiences pound for pound was funding ‘a lovely man’ to fulfil a deeply held passion to excavate an architectural site in Turkey. It led to the unearthing of a lost language and a 3,500-year-old letter written by a soldier under siege as he abandoned his post. “For £10k that was satisfactory and very classy. The point is it shows your best philanthropy doesn’t have to be your biggest philanthropy.”
Text taken from 2015 Beacon Awards programme.Visit Beacon Awards to learn more.