Doing good at Christmas

If you’re anything like me, Christmas creeps up and takes you by surprise every year. It seems like the months between the long and sultry days of Summer and the cold, rainy and dark days of Winter just fly by. I’m often left wondering where my year has gone. My mother often said that the older one gets, the quicker the years go by. But I believe that the years fly by because I do so much. I don’t believe in getting older. Age is a state mind.

For me, the festive season is not only a time to celebrate with family and friends but also to look back over the year to what I’ve achieved and to figure out what challenge I’ll rise to in the year to come. It’s also the magical time for giving.

This year giving for me took the form of filling 100 ‘Christmas stockings’ for underprivileged children aged 1 to 18 in South Africa. The actual shopping for these gifts took place when I visited Cape Town in October. It was a teriffic activity to be part of. It’s thanks to Amor Strauss from Cordaid Urban Matters in Cape Town that I was able to become involved.

Santa’s Shoebox is the organisation that facilitates the giving experience. They also get schools involved since school children in South Africa are given a social responsibility in the school curriculum. The school children decorate a standardised shoebox as part of their social responsibility project and benefactors buy the contents to fill the boxes. Each box has a unique identification number which relates to a specific child. This ensures that a 16yr old doesn’t receive gifts for a 5yr old. The benefactor is given a specific budget to stay within, which quite honestly, is the biggest challenge of all.

Admittedly Amor and I had loads of fun trying to be as original and smart as possible about buying the gifts on a very strict budget. But I suppose the biggest kick for me, was negotiating loads of ‘freebees’ from many department stores when they heard what we were doing. Many thanks go to the management of Edgars, Truworths and Woolworths in Paarl. I do hope the kids enjoy their Christmas gifts as much as we did buying them.

I wish you perspective and a stress free festive season. Look around you and appreciate what you already have and you may realise that you already have everything your heart desires. Happy holidays!

Unconditional Giving

When we donate money to an NGO, are we allowed to have an opinion as to how that money is spent? Or does the transaction end when the giver gives or when the benefactor can sleep better at night because of this act of giving? Or, does the transaction only end when the NGO achieves what the giver expects it to?

In the last few weeks the giving policies of Pink Ribbon in the Netherlands have been widely criticized in the media. As always, the media attacks first and then gives the organisation the opportunity to defend itself later. Read more about how Pink Ribbon spends your donations on the Pink Ribbon blog (Dutch language).

Whether Pink Ribbon’s defence is sincere or not, is quite honestly beside the point. The organisation has now been brought into question and in to doubt, in the minds of many…..myself included.

How much damage is the press allowed to do? And, how much damage has Pink Ribbon felt by the media’s scathing articles? And, who pays for this damage in the long term?

So, to my first comment? Is the philanthropist allowed to have an opinion as to how their money is spent? Or, is that entirely up to the NGO?
All opinions are welcome!

The inspirational slippery path

As soon as you start living your dream, your dreams evolve.
I get my inspiration from many different sources. Whether it’s talking to people in my department, suppliers or even people on planes. Only this week I received an email, which I subscribe to from, which inspired me.

The time will come, Helen, and it will be sooner rather than later, when your greatest admirers and protégés will look at your life – your achievements, possessions (especially your fantastic charitable foundation), and passions – frown a little and sullenly say, “Yeah, but for you… it was easy.” At which point you should conceal any yearning you may possess to either object or laugh hysterically. Instead, lovingly look them square in the eye and say, “Yes, and it can be easy for you, too.”

It’s always been my belief that the stars were shining very brightly and very favourably  upon me when I was born, since, I’ve managed to achieve just about everything that I’ve wanted in my life. In South Africa they’d say that I’d ’landed with my bum in the butter’ . How this could be positive, is still quite strange to me. Well imagine this; me skidding along on a patch of slippery butter and oops……….. ; you get the picture and quite hilarious really. What I believe the idiom is really about, is that some people have the knack of speeding along and getting things done. These people are also willing to take all the risks necessary in order to succeed but are also willing to fail and when they do, they sometimes have a soft landing (in nice soft butter…at room temperature).

‘No’ doesn’t feature in my vocabulary and I don’t let anything get in the way of what I want to achieve. I am prepared to work hard for what I want though. In the words of Michael Jordan, ”I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

A few years ago I became involved with Hope Village in Namibia by coaching and mentoring the founder. Marietjie told me that she pays school fees for every child because if she doesn’t, these children are treated differently at school; as second-rate citizens. It’s her belief that by giving every child the same fighting chance in life that they can break the vicious circle that they are in, and eventually change their life and succeed. I’m a great believer in education. Not necessarily the classical educational system that we use today but, I believe in educating the next generation. I became inspired. I became a woman on a mission. I talked to a few people, convinced a few others, presented a plan and I was given the opportunity to set up a charitable foundation for Deloitte in the Netherlands.

In September 2010 we launched the Fair Chance Foundation which focuses on improving education for underprivileged children, aged 6 to 18. The Foundation is independent but is financed by Deloitte with money, people and knowledge.  I’m very proud of where we are today, of the fantastic partners that we support (JINC, IMC Weekendschool, Jong Ondernemen, Nibud Geldexamen) and my Foundation Manager, because without her very little would actually get done. Thanks Anne-Marie.

But, I’m still dreaming of even greater things, still inspired and still careering down my buttery slip n’ slide. So, “Yes, it can be easy for you too.” As long as you’re inspired, have a dream and are prepared for the slippery path ahead.