Contact Andrew Bibby
Making your wealth work for social change
This article by Andrew Bibby, in a slightly different form, was first published in The Independent, 7 May 1994
Sex may be a safe conversation topic these days, but what you do with your money probably isn't. Even with friends it's not normally done to discuss wealth, and certainly not the morality of money.
The Network for Social Change has been breaking this taboo since 1985. An informal organisation which now has about 70 members, the Network is in one sense highly exclusive: you won't be invited to join if you're not wealthy. Members normally have assets of at least £250,000 in addition to the value of their home.
What Network members have in common apart from this is a willingness to consider the personal implications of their wealth and an interest in giving at least some of it away. "The Network offers an excellent forum for being free to talk about money. It's very open and very friendly," says Sue Gillie, one of the members.
For perhaps understandable reasons, the Network is cautious of publicity. However, it is keen to attract new members and has arranged an introductory meeting to be held in London next month. Prospective new members will then have the opportunity to attend the Network's next weekend conference of members in the Autumn.
Sue Gillie and her husband Oliver followed this route into the Network in 1989, after Sue had happened to notice a small press article. The Gillies had just found a buyer for their south London estate agency business, at the very height of the property boom. "Having sold the business for sufficient to know there was no need to earn a daily crust, I was faced with the enormous question of what to do with the rest of my life," Sue says. "I also felt that, for all the hard work and skills I had put into our business, I was still the beneficiary of a considerable amount of good luck."
As a result of her involvement in the Network, Sue Gillie became active in promoting Ashoka, an international charity which awards bursaries to Third World individuals promoting social change in their communities and which has been partly funded by donations from Network members. "Ashoka fellows have a combination of vision, drive and realism which can take their ideas a long way," says Sue Gillie, currently Ashoka UK's chairman.
She is also on the small committee planning the Network's Autumn conference, on the theme of risk. "Do we sit back, or do we actively challenge ourselves and risk losing money?" she says.
The Network began primarily as a group of people who had inherited wealth, but has since grown to include more who have made money in business. Members range in age from late twenties to 85, with most in their forties and fifties. "Some of the members are actively divesting themselves of their wealth, while others are actively accumulating more - for personal and family security, because it gives them pleasure or so as to be able to give more away," says Patrick Boase, Chair of the Network.
The Network has developed a form of collective giving, through the pooling of money in an annual funding cycle. Possible ideas for grant-support are put forward by Network members (unsolicited requests for money are not accepted), researched by other members and then debated at one of the twice-yearly conferences. The total donated by Network members in this way has now risen to about £300,000, with a similar amount donated by more informal means.
"The Network as a whole has no expressed policy on the types of organisation or projects it will back. However, Network members' interests tend to lie in smaller projects and organisations," says Patrick Boase. "Among other things funded this year is a debt project to employ an information officer and lobbyist campaigning for debt reduction, particularly in the severely indebted countries of southern Africa."