Carnegie UK Trust turns 100

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Last week the Carnegie UK Trust celebrated its 100th birthday. And boy, did it celebrate in style, with a week-long party in Edinburgh featuring some amazing exhibitions, dinners and the awarding of the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy.

We were celebrating the amazing generosity of some extremely rich people, who obviously have lots of much more selfish choices on how they spend their money. My main take away was that giving happens in all kinds of ways, I heard that of the £10bn given to good causes each year in the UK “only” £1.5bn come from £1m++ donors which means the majority are given by sponsoring your friend’s fun run. We discussed the huge value of giving time, services in-kind, as well as giving food to the food bank and clothes to the charity shop. The challenge of course is working out how this giving makes the most positive impact on our society; it’s not about making us feel good it’s about making a change to the status quo where the status quo isn’t providing people in our country (and our world) access to their basic human needs of a safe community, a home to live in, food and water, friendship and happiness, and of course education and fulfilment.

I was already very interested in the work of Andrew Carnegie before I made the trip up to Edinburgh so to be asked to speak at the Public Libraries seminar was a real honour. Knowing how passionate Carnegie was about libraries as a result of being starved of books as a child, I wanted to ensure I made a good job of it – thinking deeply about the needs of society for a 21st century Library. You can find the transcript of my speech in my last blog post. I also enjoyed the speeches from the other speakers in the session, particularly Liz Macdonald, Senior Policy Officer at Carnegie UK Trust, who used the words of Andrew Carnegie himself to illustrate his passion for libraries; “let there be light” he quoted, or even had engraved above the door to his libraries, and he literally meant it putting huge glass atriums into the libraries to aid reading by natural light when the norm was reading by candle light. Martyn Wade asked for a move to “one Library” which deserves more time. And Louise Overgaard, from the amazing library in Aarhaus, Denmark, talked about the future of libraries and the maker movement.

The celebrations included a fascinating exhibition about the life of Andrew Carnegie. I especially enjoyed seeing the first ever known pre-nuptial agreement from 1877 to ensure his new wife supported his ambition to give away his fortune for good causes and she signed away any rights to his estate. There was also an impressive Warhol exhibition, and a bagpipe playing robot!

The Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy is a highly prestigious award which is awarded biannually to those who use their private wealth for public good, and this year – as in previous years – the recipients were all very worthy of the recognition. The 2013 recipients were Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Dr. James H. Simons and Marilyn H. Simons, Dmitry Borisovich Zimin and Dame Janet Wolfson de Botton on behalf of the Wolfson Family, as well as Sir Tom Hunter who rather charmingly described himself as ‘chuffed to bits’ to have received the medal. You can find out more about the great work of the winners here.

Listening to the thought provoking words by keynote speaker Pierre Omidyar at the awards ceremony, about optimism and philanthropy, I understood that the first step to making change is believing that you can make change.

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