Sara Vincente in Mozambique
In this occasional series of interviews with the City’s leading philanthropists we aim to bring guidance and inspiration to others.
Portuguese born Sara Vincente is Deputy COO of EMEA Equities at Morgan Stanley. After graduating in Economics in 2004 she spent four months volunteering in Mozambique with vulnerable children. This inspired her to set up a charity in her own time which provides food and education to children and their families in Mozambique which has raised over €1m and supported more than 1500 children.
What does philanthropy mean to you?
Philanthropy is about doing your bit for others - in terms of money, time or physical effort. It is something you are compelled to do, and takes different dimensions depending on each person.
How would you describe your philanthropy and what is your goal?
My philanthropy is mostly time based, with some monetary contribution. In 2004 I founded a charity working with underprivileged children in Mozambique. We currently support more than 2,000 beneficiaries. I dedicate an average of 2 hours a day (night) to it - I mostly do financials and key strategic fundraising initiatives.
What was your first experience of philanthropy?
We always had a few fundraising campaigns in school but it was not until I was in university that I took part in my first volunteering experience. I was tutoring teenagers in a home for girls, in maths and Portuguese. I was terrible and it was hard to find ways to convince them to study! After graduating from university I went to Mozambique to volunteer for 4 months.
Do you feel you are making a difference? If so how?
Absolutely! I chose the name of the charity – ‘A Little Gesture A Great Help’ - for a reason. After living in Mozambique I learnt that a small amount could make a big difference. We started sponsoring children for as little as €150 per year which provides them with education and food for an entire year. We raise over €250k a year which is used to change the lives of more than 2000 children per year, we have distributed more than €1.1m. In terms of my role, I have chosen to focus on activities where I know I can add more value - such as the finances - I know I am making a difference for the charity and the children.
What is the biggest challenge you have had to date?
Time is my biggest challenge daily. I divide my spare time between my charity, work, family life and friends and I always feel I could do more of each. I swing between the required areas (such as accounts) and the higher value added areas (such as fundraising) and try to be efficient with my time but that is definitely my biggest challenge.
In the field, our greatest challenge is accepting failure. We have a lot of success cases, but we also have quite a few children who abandon school, early pregnancies, misled projects. Knowing when to stop is a difficult decision!
Has your philanthropy had an impact on your personal or professional life?
Absolutely - for good and bad, though I like to think the balance is positive. As my daughter goes to sleep, I open the laptop and move from banking into charity world. I have a very understanding husband! And I have a considerably more reduced social life than many years ago as I have to accept trade-offs that there is insufficient time for all the things I love doing.
Professionally, I actually think it has only been beneficial. I gained inter-personal and verbal communication skills that I would not have otherwise developed - through multiple engagement with donors and speeches at events, which I absolutely used to dread. My colleagues regard this extra activity with admiration and are keen contributors - which I highly appreciate. My company is also very supportive of it and often matches my fundraising and volunteering efforts.
More than anything, doing philanthropy gives me balance overall - that is key for a happy life.
Of what are you most proud?
As I do many things, I am proud in aggregation - of all that I manage to do. I am not always good at patting myself on the back and quite often do the opposite, but rationally speaking I am proud of the balance between work, family, and friends that I achieved and what I can create - either a smart loving daughter or an impactful charity, all are important.
In terms of the charity, I am proud of how many people I have inspired in regards to the cause of children in Mozambique. It started as a ‘one man show’ but has expanded to be more than me, which means it will outlast me.
Why is philanthropy important today?
As the world gets more troubled, it is sometimes hard to keep perspective. As we go to different hardships, we also need to be grateful for what we have and the opportunities that were given to us. Truth is, I was born in the lucky part of the world. I believe we can all be a better place if the world is eventually a safer and prosperous place for us all to live. Some countries and people won't make it there on their own, so those that can, should reach a helping hand.
What advice would you give to people starting out on their own journey?
If you are joining a long term cause - poverty, health, education - remember it will be beyond you when the problem finds resolution. Some will improve during your life time and others will persist. Enjoy the successes as they will give you strength to keep fighting and learn from the failures to change the way you operate. Keep focused on the outcomes, and don't settle for the average.
For those thinking whether to do it now or later - now is the time. There will never really be a perfect time to dedicate time to others, there will always be conflicting priorities, but if you have drive and believe in what you are working for, now is when it makes sense.