- Four social entrepreneurs have won $US250,000 courtesy of Australian investor Alex Waislitz.
- The chairman of Thorney Investment Group is the principal backer of the Waislitz Global Citizen Awards to help combat extreme poverty.
- This year’s awards recognised organisations from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Zambia.
- Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.
While the share market swings wildly, Australian tech investor Alex Waislitz has turned an eye to philanthropy.
This month Waislitz, in partnership with grassroots organisation Global Citizen, awarded $US250,000 ($357,000) to four social entrepreneurs to accelerate their efforts to end extreme poverty.
“When you realise there are one billion people at the edge of surviving or not surviving, let alone building a good life for themselves, then you realise this is an area where we can have such a big impact and a global reach,” Waislitz told Business Insider Australia.
He got involved with the event while climbing Kilimanjaro seven years ago with Global Citizen co-founder Hugh Evans. For the last five of those, his philanthropic venture, the Waislitz Foundation, has funded the awards which recognise scalable and adaptable ideas that can make the biggest difference to those in need.
Struck at the top of the African continent, the partnership has helped fund projects around the world.
Haroon Yasin was this year’s grand prize winner, receiving $US100,000 for his educational organisation Orenda. Yasin’s mobile app, which is also broadcast on national television, brings education into the homes of half a million Pakistani children whose schooling has been disrupted by the pandemic.
Three additional $US50,000 prizes were also given.
The ‘disruptor’ of the year was awarded to Nnameka Ikegwuonu who founded ColdHubs in Nigeria. The business builds and operates walk-in solar-powered cold stations in markets and farms, extending the freshness of their produce from 2 days to 21.
Farhad Wajdi received the Global Citizens’ choice award, determined by popular vote for his Ebtakar Inspiring Entrepreneurs of Afghanistan Organisation. It empowers underprivileged Afghan women to start their own solar-powered food cart business and during the pandemic, it’s helped convert those carts into mobile disinfectant units.
An additional COVID-19 response award was handed out this year to Muzalema Mwanza. Her Safe Motherhood Alliance helps facilitate safe childbirth in Zambia through the distribution of kits and the training of attendants. It also manufacturers PPE gear, including 3D-printed masks and face shields for frontline workers.
The pandemic has exposed global inequality
Falling during the coronavirus crisis, the awards come at a unique juncture this year.
The pandemic has highlighted the difference between the haves and have nots, with some of the former group having jumped on private jets to move from their Silicon Valley mansions to their New Zealand boltholes.
The crisis has only exacerbated the stark divide between rich and poor. Billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk have accumulated ever-greater fortunes at the same time average workers fret over job security.
Accordingly, there’s been talk, at least abroad, of a wealth tax to fund an increasingly urgent social security net.
Waislitz, whose investing knack has earned him the lion share of his own $1.4 billion fortune, believes there’s certainly a role for individuals to do more to help those in need.
“I think everyone can make a difference and make a contribution and that’s why I’m trying to do my bit through the foundation,” he said.”We saw that during the bushfires and it was one of the reasons we gave $1 million to support the disaster relief.”
“Is there a formal obligation to do so? No. But I like to think that if you’ve been successful and this country has been good to you then you give something back, and philanthropy is my way of doing that.”
It’s why, he says, the awards are an important initiative as they help lift the profile of not-for-profits and put them on the radar of others who might be willing and able to lend a hand.
It’s one of a number of initiatives the Waislitz Foundation helps fund, including some much closer to home. The Clontarf Foundation in Western Australia, which aims to improve the education and employability of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander boys through sport, is one with which Waislitz has a long relationship.
With nearly 120 academies around the country, Waislitz calls it one of the most successful not-for-profits in Australia.
“If the kids are good enough, the foundation ultimately offers a pathway into the AFL or rugby but to be part of it they have to stay in school,” Waislitz said.
“We know that the longer you stay in school, the better your chances are for a better life. Education is one of those key ways to change lives, along with better health and ending poverty.”
He sees his approach to philanthropy then as not dissimilar to his investment strategy.
“I believe in strategy and the term I like to use is social venture capital because we will follow early-stage initiatives if they’re interesting and if they can show the direction they’re headed in,” he said.
“Real change takes many years but today is the first part of that journey so get on board.”
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