Carrying the Olympic Torch for Philanthropy

10 August 2012

For Generation Y philanthropy has become an essential part of life – and success – as a young professional, especially in the City of London. Funding circles like the Funding Network, who recently celebrated their 10th anniversary, are pioneers in engaging more young people in philanthropy, whilst the launch of the City Funding Network last week, a key part of the City Philanthropy Wealth of Opportunity campaign, will surely accelerate this growing trend. I was delighted to be one of the keynote speakers at the launch, alongside Roger Gifford, future Lord Mayor of the City.

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. 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, which was profiled earlier this year in the NPC’s report The Benefits of Trusteeship. Magic Breakfast feeds 6,000 primary school children every morning in over 210 primary schools across the country. Having suffered from child hunger myself, I know that a good breakfast improves children’s school attendance, concentration in class and exam results, and we can only carry on our work thanks to the kindness of our individual and corporate donors.

I also know that philanthropy – and the key role that young professionals are playing – is key to the ongoing success of charities like Magic Breakfast and key to the UK’s growing reputation as a global hub for philanthropy. Since graduating from Cambridge and coming to work in the City, I’ve continued my passion for philanthropy. It’s helped me to get some board-level experience and develop a range of business skills whilst building a wide and deep network of peers as well as senior leaders. 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. For my generation, doing good, not just doing well, is now central to how we live in our professional and personal lives. Philanthropy is built-in, not just bolt-on – a key catalyst to success at the start of our careers, not just something we start doing during the middle or at the end of our working lives.

Magic Breakfast itself is a great example of philanthropy in action. We are lucky to be supported by a wide range of successful businesses, including PepsiCo, Morgan Stanley, Clifford Chance, LCH.Clearnet and publishing giant Pearson, owners of the Financial Times. We also benefit from young professionals contributing their time, skills and expertise, from fundraising to volunteering at our breakfast clubs. 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 philanthropists, young and old.

So, as we’re glued to our screens watching the Olympics, I won’t just be cheering on Jessica Ennis, Chris Hoy and the rest of Team GB. I’ll also be cheering for the UK’s philanthropists and celebrating their Olympian efforts in supporting small, high-impact charities like Magic Breakfast. Through their support for charities and good causes, the power of philanthropy is inspiring thousands of young professionals to be generous with their time, skills and financial resources, and showing the world that a huge part of what makes London – and our country – great, is the generosity, energy and passion of our philanthropists. I was proud to be carrying the Torch for all of them too.

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