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Philanthropists in the spotlight

27 October 2021

April French Furnell

They say fall in love with the cause, not the solution, so Citywealth questioned three philanthropists to find out what causes are close to their hearts, the challenges they have overcome in their journey so far, and their advice to budding philanthropists.

Meet Hugh Somerleyton, the founder of WildEast and owner of Fritton Lake in Norfolk.

Hugh spearheads WildEast, an ambitious movement to return 20 per cent of East Anglia to nature. The cause close to his heart is “changing our culture to one of co-existence and compromise with our planet and those we share it with”. He describes it as a new religion, not worshiping but celebrating Mother Earth and rethinking where us humans fit into the great chaos of life. “We need to earn the name (homo-sapiens) we gave ourselves 200 years ago to have a chance of averting climate catastrophe”.

As for what drives his passion, he answered: “I don’t have an easy answer, but I guess it is wrapped up in wanting to serve humanity and serve the great privilege bestowed on me to positively change lives”. In working towards this goal, he has had to overcome “self-doubt, every day, wrestling with the impossibility of simply being happy (unless at the coalface of ideas)”.

So far in his journey, the most memorable moment has been the “overwhelming out-pouring of love and support when we launched WildEast last summer”. The target of WildEast was chosen as restoring native habitats to at least 20% of the world’s land currently being used by humans for farming, ranching and forestry is necessary to protect biodiversity and slow species loss.

His advice to others embarking on a philanthropic journey is to listen to the calling that comes from deep within. “It is not always linked to experience and may sometimes feel naïve or embarrassing to share, but whatever it is you have to give it the same unwavering commitment you give to your work or relationships.”

 

Next up is Paul Lister, custodian of Alladale Wilderness Reserve and Founder of The European Nature Trust.


 

The European Nature Trust, abbreviated to TENT, creates unique travel experiences which connect people to wild nature and raise funds for conservation and wildlife projects across the continent. Paul said, “The collapse of the world’s natural ecosystems is of great concern to me. For example not many people realise that we have logged, felled and burnt over 27% of all the planet's land surface (non-desert & non-ice) to make way for livestock and feed.  Europeans are all too quick, having destroyed 95% of our lands, to tell others not to do the same.  So the work of The European Nature Trust does what it can to engage with landscape conservation and wildland restoration.”

His passion comes from his “never ending desire to try and connect as many people to nature as possible. Remember ‘we depend on nature, nature does not depend on us’!”

He believes that falling in love with nature leads to a need to protect it. It’s one of his main drivers for getting out of bed in the mornings. “I never wanted a family, and as a result have less distractions in life, and more disposable time to work on projects and campaigning for nature. Call me sad, but I am HAPPY”, he said.

Key to progress is learning from what has been done before. “We started on a rewilding journey at Alladale Wilderness Reserve back in 2004. At that time the term re-wilding was in its infancy and we were at the vanguard of this new way of managing the land. Initially many thought of us as being crazy, but over the last decade people have come to terms that we need to do something different.  What worked 100 years ago, does not necessarily work now. After all, it's history and habits that have got us to where we are today”, he recalled.

His proudest achievement so far when pushed to pick out a single project is bringing back red squirrels to the forests around Alladale.

Unfortunately, little philanthropic donations are made to conservation and wildlife projects, just three per cent. “Being able to help push the needle of this dial would be a serious objective”, said Paul.

His best piece of advice to others is to “Focus on a particular project that excites you, visit the people working in the field to better understand the challenges they face. Then perhaps you can find out how best you can get involved”.
 

Our third philanthropist in the spotlight is Alexa Poortier, Founder of itmustbeNOW.com.

itmustbeNOW.com was launched on Earth Day 2017, alongside her husband Onno Poortier, as a self-financed for-benefit legacy project and a cause close to their hearts to support the Global Goals and help build resilience to thrive. Their mission is two-fold. They aim to build an informed, inspired and empowered global community of travellers that believes we all have a responsibility to act and be a force for good. For the hotel sector, they aim to boldly change attitudes and behaviours, help build profitable purpose-led businesses that put people and planet first and provide tools for accountable sustainability and transparency that elevate their communication potential to all stakeholders.

If travel and tourism was a country, it would be the 4th largest carbon polluter in the world by 2019 with a shocking 80% from transportation and 20% from hospitality. “We found it disturbing to know that it is also one of the slowest on climate action and in taking responsibility for their total impact on communities and the environment”, said Alexa.

Their passion is derived from their sense of urgency that ‘it must be now’ that the industry supports the Global Goals and puts a break on carbon before 2030 to help prevent irreversible damage.

One of Alexa’s greatest challenges is overcoming the ‘doom and gloom’ feeling around climate inaction. Instead she focuses on bolder actions, innovation solutions, finding hope and being helpful.

She described her most memorable moment as the trigger for IT MUST BE NOW!, which took place in Paris during COP21 during a conversation with a young millennial who noted the climate crisis problem is mainly due to the lifestyle of older generations in the developed world, and the need for them to step-up to help younger generations to fix it. “The profound awareness that I am one of the 'older generation' that is part of the problem and what I must do to be part of the solution was a lightbulb moment.  We launched itmustbeNOW.com a year after the Paris agreement was signed, and the young millennial (my son) became part of the team three years later”, said Alexa.

Her advice to others is to choose a cause close to your heart where you can realistically make a difference. “Realise that it is a privilege to help others, and know you are not alone when you join or create a supportive community with shared values … IT MUST BE NOW!”

 

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