Saturday, May 31, 2008

Entrepreneur From Britain Opens Charity in America, By Stephanie Strom - The New York Times - 19th September 2006

The Virgin Group, the cluster of companies founded by Sir Richard Branson, is introducing its particular brand of corporate philanthropy to the United States today.

Called Virgin Unite, it is an independent charity that combines financing and volunteers from the company with financing and volunteers from the public in social outreach work and philanthropic undertakings.

“I wouldn’t say we do it in a better way than other companies, just a different way,” Mr. Branson in a telephone interview from Spain.

Mr. Branson donates the $4 million to $5 million he receives annually for speaking engagements to Virgin Unite; the Virgin Group covers the charity’s costs and donates products, services and employees’ skills. That, in turn, furthers Virgin Unite’s aims of supporting business models that lead to social and environmental changes, help entrepreneurs, and connect people to grass-roots organizations around the world that can use their money and skills.

In South Africa, for instance, it is building a hospital that will sell basic health services to generate income to support itself but will provide free care for H.I.V., AIDS and tuberculosis.

It is raising money to support a charity that uses motorcycles to get health care workers into remote areas and connect patients there to health care centers.

It is creating a corps of musicians who will help raise money and awareness of social problems through events like a coming dinner at Nobu with Natalie Imbruglia, the Australian singer who is the spokeswoman for the United Nations Campaign to End Fistula.

Jean Oelwang, managing director of Virgin Unite, said: “One of our goals is to go out and find the best grass-roots, entrepreneurial organizations and help connect staff, customers and others to them to give them time, cash, stuff and voices that will help them scale up.”

In the United States, Virgin Unite has started working with Stand Up for Kids, a nonprofit group working with homeless children, and Youth Noise, a social networking site that helps young people get involved in causes and explore social issues.

“The idea is that young people have the most energy and passion of these sorts of things, and they relate to our brand so we can speak to them and reach them,” said Darin Spurgeon, the charity’s Americas director.

The American arm of Virgin Unite will also focus on global warming, which will complement the work that Virgin Group is doing to develop alternative fuels, Mr. Branson said. “Some initiatives on clean fuel will be completely charitable by nature,” he said.

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