Worthy lesson in giving back to society

14th November 2008 at 00:00
Sir Ian Wood has enlisted the help of secondary pupils in a scheme to support deserving causes in the community.

One of Scotland's wealthiest men, Sir Ian Wood, has enlisted the help of secondary pupils in an innovative scheme to support the most deserving causes in communities.

Teenagers have to champion the charity they believe most effectively addresses the social needs of their neighbourhood as part of the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative, supported by the Wood Family Trust.

Over an eight-week project, several teams within each school learn how to analyse a charity's operations. The teams then present their case and the winners get Pounds 3,000 to donate to their chosen charity.

"Philanthropy is not just the preserve of the very, very wealthy," said James Townsend, project director at the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative. "In fact, it's a great opportunity for everybody, not just to give money but to give their time and their skills."

The project encourages pupils to identify the social problems on their doorstep, to think about solutions and identify charities best placed to turn things around. They have to visit the charities to meet the people involved, before making their assessments and presenting their case, based on their research, to a panel of judges.

"We contribute to all the strands of A Curriculum for Excellence in terms of building skills, promoting responsible citizenship and working together as teams," says Mr Townsend, who taught history in the east end of London before taking up this role.

This afternoon he is introducing the concept to pupils at Torry Academy in Aberdeen. They are brainstorming some of the ventures they would like to support. One group is discussing issues affecting their own age group. "People our age are turning to crime, alcohol and drugs because they have nothing better to do," says Kara Welsh, 16. "There's street football, but that's for boys. They built a football pitch, but that's for boys as well," says 15-year-old Stephanie Arthur.

Another team is already fund-raising for a charity supporting homeless people in Aberdeen and they are considering using this initiative to boost their efforts.

"So we're going to choose the Cyrenians," says 16-year-old Emma Leaper. "There are a lot of people in our school who have been affected by homelessness," says Hayley Leys, her fifth-year team mate.

Alan Miller, a support for learning teacher at Torry Academy, is delighted the school is taking part in the scheme. "It's brilliant. It's a way pupils can make an impact on their community, on things that really bother them and that interest them."

The Youth and Philanthropy Initiative has now been launched in 10 north- east schools - Aberdeen Grammar, Kincorth and St Machar academies, Albyn School, Robert Gordon's College and St Margaret's School in Aberdeen, and Banchory, Ellon and Mackie academies in Aberdeenshire are also taking part. It will be rolled out to 50 schools across Scotland in partnership with the Wood Family Trust.

"Next year, we will be working in Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Edinburgh in 25 schools, and the year after that we will be in 50 schools in Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Edinburgh and Glasgow," says Mr Townsend.

The family trust was launched last year by Sir Ian, founder of Wood Group, an international energy services company with headquarters in Aberdeen. The trustees envisage that 75 per cent of its Pounds 50 million fund will support enterprise in developing countries, with the remainder split between aid for volunteering projects abroad and ventures such as the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative to develop young people in Scotland.

Over three years the trust has pledged Pounds 370,000 to YPI and in the first year 1,500 pupils aged 14 to 17 will take part in Scotland.

"We see YPI as an excellent way to support grassroots organisations through the work of committed children," said Sir Ian Wood.

"For people to be ready to give back to society - by giving their time, their talent, or all three - they must first learn to be good citizens.

"Our ultimate goal, in what is one of our most significant philanthropic investments over the next three years, is to help create a new generation of givers in Scotland."


The Youth and Philanthropy Initiative was launched in Toronto five years ago by the founder of MAC Cosmetics, Julie Toskan Casale. Since then, it has run in 200 schools across Canada.

It was launched in the UK last year in 10 London schools and is expanding to 30 London schools this year. The Institute for Philanthropy runs the scheme in the UK on behalf of the Toskan Casale Foundation.

Knife and gun crimes were among the issues most concerning the first London pupils to take part in the initiative. They were encouraged to identify some of the possible reasons behind the violence - such as drug abuse - and investigate charities which supported strategies for tackling it.

Hilary Street, a senior associate of the London Centre for Leadership in Learning at London University's Institute of Education, carried out a project evaluation this year, which found the overwhelming feedback from pupils was one of enthusiasm for and interest in the initiative and this way of learning.

She concluded that the concept of working on "a real task" was very compelling for learners, particularly when students had the chance of working on something they are genuinely interested in.

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