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East London: East End Community Foundation’s unveils Life Chances drive

Charity seeks to raise £5million to tackle issues in Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Newham and the City

East End Community Foundation chair Bronek Masojada – image Matt Grayson

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“When I was approached about joining the East End Community Foundation, I thought it answered a problem that I’d had as a CEO,” said Bronek Masojada, who has spent the last 28 years at the helm of insurance firm Hiscox.

“There is a lot of desire among staff at companies to get involved in charitable activities close to where they work and that’s great, but the question then is what, precisely?

“The answer to that question is a navigation service for organisations that identifies what those needs are, which are the most effective charities to support and how to make sure any donation is put to good use.

“I’m not going to pretend to understand what the needs of individuals are in deprived areas – nor do my colleagues.

“That navigation service also needs to show how staff can be involved to a limited extent because, from my experience people’s desire to play a part is much greater than the reality when dates are in the diary and free time and weekends have to be given up to do that. 

“The EECF provides a service that addresses all those issues, for anybody who would like to try to make a difference – a clear solution to a clear problem.

“The fact it also gives away a substantial amount of its own money every year means the team has every incentive to make sure it is done so effectively.”

Bronek joins EECF as chair, having taken over from Canary Wharf Group’s Howard Dawber towards the end of last year, his arrival coinciding with the launch of the charity’s Life Chances Campaign to raise and distribute £5million to help deprived communities in east London recover from the effects of the pandemic.

The money will be distributed to organisations in Tower Hamlets, Newham, Hackney and the City with the three aims of improving the wellbeing and employment prospects of young people, tackling digital exclusion and reducing poverty and isolation among older people. Pledges of £750,000 have already been made.

Bronek said: “About £2.5million will go on the first of these, about £1million on the last and the balance on digital connectivity.

These areas all slightly overlap – what drives elderly isolation is lack of digital connectivity in today’s age, not just access to things like iPads, but the competency to use them.

“It’s not just about giving people a bit of kit, but also providing support.

“My mother and my mother-in-law in South Africa are both big silver surfers, because they are driven to enjoy connectivity with their children and grandchildren, and that’s fantastic.

“My mother has been self-isolating, but probably speaks to my children more often than me, through digital means.

“It will be the same for people in east London – if you can’t get out because of Covid, you should still be able to connect with people.

“Zoom and other platforms are free, if you know how to use them. There is some reticence.

“I can remember when I put my grandmother in front of a Space Invaders game,  she just froze, but nowadays you don’t have that choice.

“Life Chances is trying to address real needs. The average salary in Tower Hamlets is £80,000 a year but the average household income is £25,000. That’s understandable, but pretty extraordinary when you think about it.

“What we’re trying to do is to appeal to the people and the firms that employ them in the area to help those who are resident locally.

“I recently read youth unemployment in London is four times the national average and Life Chances is about helping people into work.

“Not everyone’s going to be an investment banker – I get that – but firms like Hiscox and employers in Canary Wharf need a huge range of skills and capabilities.

“Clearly good educational achievements make things easier, but even for those who don’t have them we can make a real difference by helping them get entry-level jobs.

“I have friends in the insurance industry who grew up within earshot of Bow Bells, but who have done unbelievably well.

“These companies do offer people who are smart, even partly educated, the ability to rise through the ranks and that’s what they want.

“It was a surprise to learn about the disparity between income versus household income. It’s pretty apparent if you travel through the four boroughs and listen to what’s going on. 

“I was also surprised when the EECF’s CEO, Tracey Walsh, told me there were 5,000 charities and community groups active in those areas – that gives you a sense of the size of the challenge and the need for navigation.

“If there’s a corporate wanting to get involved, how do you find and pick an organisation to support? Which are effective and which make a difference?

“Often that choice is made because of individual connections, partners or friends, but to my mind that’s not the best way to choose a charity.

“The EECF applies rigour – groups have to apply for grants. They have to explain what their outcomes are going to be and then assess whether their aims were achieved or not. That’s a powerful process.

“The other thing about the EECF is that some of the grants are quite small in monetary terms – £2,000 or £5,000, for example – but they can make a real difference to a particular community group or charity.

“It’s hard for big companies, who might want to give say £50,000 – which is the top level we ask organisations to commit to – and to then break that down into grants themselves. Hiscox, for example, wouldn’t be able to do that.

“EECF is a well respected organisation. It’s seen as independent, fair and transparent and those are great things to build on. It has its own money to give away and full credit to Howard and Tracey for building that up. 

“My ambition is to continue the work they and the other trustees have been doing for many years and make the Life Chances Campaign a success.

“We don’t need a revolution – there’s a very clear plan of how we can make a difference and improve people’s lives.

“It’s a good programme and, if we can just deliver on that, then that’s a job well done.

“The more successful we are with Life Chances, the more we may have to increase staff numbers and so on, but that’s an outcome rather than a goal.

“I think that the other thing we’d like to move to with the campaign is to say to those getting grants that we’ll give them a certain amount each year for the next three years, so they can plan rather than having to put their energies into constant fundraising.

“An ambition has also got to be to augment the million or so we give away every year.

“If we can get to the £2million mark every year for the next five, that would be pretty awesome.”

For Bronek, the decision to become chair of EECF follows on from a long line of extramural activities undertaken while working at Hiscox, including the position of deputy chairman of Lloyds Of London for seven years.

“I’ve always thought that a business and a person succeeds if they are involved in more than one thing,” he said. 

“The beach is really very nice to relax on, but you have to have something to relax from – when you’re there all the time, it’s no longer relaxing.

“I feel the idea of stopping work and allowing the skills and knowledge that I’ve managed to accumulate to dissipate would be a waste. My hope is I can use them instead to make a beneficial and positive impact on the wider community.

“In terms of the difference I can make, clearly there’s the day-to-day governance of the organisation and I’ve had a fair experience of that.

“Hiscox was a lot smaller when I started there in 1992 and I’m used to us going into new countries, opening offices with no staff and then, slowly, over a decade building a physical presence and a good business.

“The fact that EECF has a dozen staff is really great, because it’s small, it’s informal – you don’t manage an organisation like that the way you manage a UK business like Hiscox, which employs well over 1,000 people.

“I also have a reasonable address book and I’m not scared to go and ask people for things, so I can help the team with the opening doors part of fundraising.

“They then have to close the deal, but I know that the hardest thing when you’re raising money is knowing who to talk to and then actually getting to speak to them.

“Even if they say no, that’s better than not talking to them, because you’re building awareness.

“Of course, there’s no certainty that we will succeed with the campaign, but it’s my view that it’s always better to try and to fail rather than not to try at all.”

Organisations that would like to support the Life Chances Campaign or charities and community groups interested in applying for EECF grants can find out more at the foundation’s website.

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