This week started on a tragic note as we received news of the death of Henry Worsley, British explorer, maverick, and former SAS officer. Henry died of peritonitis brought on by his heroic drive to cross the Antarctic land mass, alone and unaided, to raise money for charity. He was rescued just 30 miles from his goal, but too late to treat him successfully.

NPC was privileged to have crossed paths with Henry some years ago when we talked to him about the Shackleton Foundation, a charity he set up with a group of like-minded visionaries. I was in awe of him—was I really talking to someone who had trekked to the South Pole?

Henry’s death is tragic, and a real loss to all concerned. Today I want to explore what it means to charities.

The charity sector is currently being battered by criticism of funding practices, executive pay, poor governance. The malpractice of the few has cast a shadow over an entire sector that holds much vision and altruism.

Henry’s story shows this starkly. His sacrifice, to raise funds for veterans via the Endeavour Fund, was the ultimate. His highly successful fundraising model involved the inspiration of a man doggedly trudging through a bleak and dangerous wilderness to achieve a wildly ambitious goal.

But what also appeals is Henry’s philosophy of enabling others to achieve ‘Great Things’. The whole point of the Endeavour Fund is to enable those physically or mentally injured by active service to recover and go on to achieve their own ‘Great Thing’—such as rowing across the Atlantic. Through such endeavours, these individuals recover their abilities and their self-confidence.

Henry also set up the Shackleton Foundation, which he designed to support social entrepreneurs to ‘achieve their own personal Antarctic’—not in the literal sense, but in realising their ambitions of creating social impact. Shauneen Lambe, the founder of Just for Kids Law which the Foundation funds, is a great example of this. She follows the philosophy of seeing young people in trouble as assets to nurture, rather than deficits to incarcerate.

A good needleperson (yes, really), Henry helped prisoners learn to sew. A direct contribution like this is a tool to enable offenders’ rehabilitation, and similar approaches are found across the charity sector. The state will often give up with individuals long before the charity sector does, but doing an excellent job of servicing cars is a ‘Great Thing’ for a person experiencing schizophrenia; learning life skills and practical skills, and going ‘straight’ upon release, is a ‘Great Thing’ for an ex-offender; aspiring to a university education is a ‘Great Thing’ for a young person living in poverty and disadvantage.

Already we hear that people are celebrating Henry’s awesome accomplishments, not only by donating to his cause, but also setting up their own ‘last 30 mile’ initiatives, to finish the job he started. So we too must celebrate the charity sector for it’s own ‘Great Thing’—being a space for such vision and inspiration to thrive, and making a real difference to people’s lives.

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