Wednesday 18 May 2016

Giving Nasc a shout

A good few years ago, The Boy was dating a podiatrist, or was it a chiropodist?  a foot doctor, in any case.  Her friends became his friends and a lot of them had been through foot-school together.  I was most struck by the fact that one of them, who practised in West Dublin, gave one day a week of her time to work in homeless hostels sorting out their feet. I'm thankful to have the use of my legs . . .and the appended feet; and appreciate how important keeping them in good nick is; but cutting corns and designing insoles is a long way from my vocation.  I was therefore full of admiration for Christine: grim as middle class feet might look like without shoes, those of the long-term homeless must be far more daunting.  It was such a direct way of doing good within her means which was a little better than tithing her income as the best Christians are expected to do. A day pro bono is 20% gross but less after a rapacious government has taxed it down to size,

More recently we were down on the coast doing some care and maintenance on the property. We enlisted the help of some younger and fitter people: a Georgian from საქართველო in the Caucasus; a Portuguese from Venezuela and a couple of South Africans. Within 24 hours we heard that family members of two [independently] of these youngsters were in trouble with the Irish immigration service.  Both relatives had to enlist the service of Nasc in Cork City to help them stumble through a maze of red tape. In one case having received a letter based on false information drafted by an apparatchik of the Irish system. It required a trip to Dublin for the fonctionnaire to retract the letter.

Nasc - which means link in Irish - has been in business for 16 years next month.  What business?  Try their mission statement: "Enable migrants and ethnic minorities to access justice and human rights and work to achieve a just, inclusive and equal society".  Ireland is not a bad country, dissenting citizens are not disappeared at midnight or banged up in concentration camps.  Nevertheless we have just this week been found guilty by Comité européen des droits sociaux CEDS / European Committee of Social Rights ECSR of violating the human rights of our Travelling Community; by failing to provide adequately serviced or adequate in number halting sites for these people to carry on their traditional lives in our midst. Travellers are definitely 'our own' and the government, local and central, can't look after them; so it is a big ask to expect the government to look after the tide of people which has washed up on our shores these last 20 years.  Nasc wants to be, has to be, entirely independent of the government if it is to give unbiased information and advocacy to the immigrants whom it serves.  They get a certain amount of help from the voluntariat: people like Christine but who care more about dark people than they care about dark feet.  But there is, has to be, a core of paid staff to provide continuity and defined areas of expertise.  They get funds from, for example, the Cork Education and Training Board CETB and the HSE Lottery Funds but their biggest fan is Atlantic Philanthropies.

Chuck Feeney made his millions running Duty Free Shopper DFS starting in Hong Kong in 1950. That was only a few years since the first ever duty free shop in the world was opened in Shannon Airport in 1947.  Not a lot of people know that the Duty Free idea was dreamed up by the catering manager at Shannon, Dr Brendan O'Regan.  Chuck Feeney, an Irish-American from New Jersey was thus an early adopter and made a lot of money selling cheap booze and expensive perfume to people waiting to fly.  In 1982, having ring-fenced enough money for himself and his family to live comfortably, he started Atlantic Philanthropies AP to give his fortune away. He is famous for his modest life-style; quotably saying that a man can only wear one pair of shoes at the same time.  For many years he insisted that the recipients of his generosity should keep the identity of their benefactor a secret. In 1996, his remaining stake in DFS was bought by Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH), which brought another stream of loot into the give-away bins.  The following year, he grassed himself up as Chuck-of-the-generous-hand in a pre-emptive strike before his anonymity was blown in a court case.

AP doesn't hand out money to everyone. It has interests in particular parts of the World (.bm .ie ,au .vn .za .us) and particular causes: ageing, children [$1million to Barnadoes], health, reconciliation and human rights. Giving chunks of money to Irish Universities in the 1990s is credited by some for helping to kick the Celtic Tiger into life.  So AP has made a difference. They also stumped up more than $11million to Free The Gays during the Marriage Equality Campaign last year.  This shows that a dollar [or two] in Ireland can leverage a huge societal change.  In the third world that dollar can leverage more because a) they have further to go b) the dollar's buying power is enormously greater. AP has given something like $40m to University of the Western Cape UWC outside Cape Town. That's where Cedric "TCoffee" Notredame and I taught a course in 1999; the students were hungry to learn in a way quite different from our experience in Europe. UWC declared bankruptcy the following year! Chuck Feeney's cavalry saved the day. With such enthusiasm for education, you know that the things [buildings, professors, equipment] that money can buy won't go to waste.

The best thing about Atlantic Philanthropies is that it has been so effective in off-loading the money that it is going to be wound up in 2020.  It would be easy to set up a self-perpetuating trust that will live on after the death of the founder. Such an entity would require a board of trustees and fund-raisers and a CEO and CFO and a roomful of drones to deal with solicitations for money. Feeney has no time for that and, at 85, not much time left. He reckons it will be more fun to see the last of his fortune redistributed than keep an extensive staff in the style to which they could easily become accustomed. This concept of Giving While Living has inspired, among others, Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates.

Mais revenons a nos Nascs! Accepting, welcoming and integrating them foreign johnnies from 180 countries into Ireland is, and will be, a big challenge. AP recognises that Nasc plays a key role in this process by providing independent advice and advocacy. Supporting a small catalyst for change is the best way to invest in an inclusive multicultural future for the island.  It's not [only] about the pierogies and bhindi bhajis!

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