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People Making a Big Difference

Updated: Jun 12, 2020

In addition to the front line workers, millions of people around the world doing their bit to help others, with their time, money or ingenuity. Either professionally or privately. All, in their own way, are Good Samaritans. Many are anonymous.

These days we value sincerity and authenticity, and a fair number of rich celebrities have discovered we don't always like what they're doing. Such as those moaning about lockdown whilst posing in front of the swimming pool at their $10m mansion, or others that can easily afford to pay their staff but elect to furlough them using taxpayer money. Stephanie Baker, senior lecturer in sociology at City University London, who is currently studying influencer marketing, observes, ‘Most of those who have been publicly criticised are ones who have flaunted their privilege, appeared greedy by using taxpayer money to furlough staff or been accused of acting irresponsibly by ignoring social distancing rules and relocating to their second homes.’ 

‘Right now, we’re looking for sincerity in people to leave us with that warm glow,’ says Ellis Cashmore, honorary professor of sociology at Aston University. He says that the lockdown has highlighted the people who are not in it for themselves: ‘Over the years our culture has progressively become more cynical... so when these extraordinary times throw up some genuine characters, it’s a hugely pleasant and unexpected surprise.’ 

Top of that list is, of course, Colonel Tom Moore who set off walking around his garden in an effort to raise £1,000. A few short weeks later, he had raised over £30m, had a number one hit single, over 100,000 birthday cards for his 100th birthday, a specially commissioned post mark in his honour, and a spitfire flypast. He became a celebrity because of his efforts.

Others, who were already famous, have done their bit too. People like Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory, who set up a JustGiving page and raised over £1 million; Sophie, Countess of Wessex, who has been volunteering by cooking meals for front-line staff; and ex-McLaren boss Ron Dennis, who was inspired by his daughter, a doctor, to found, a venture delivering food packs to hospital staff.

Of course, in amongst the rich and famous, there are many thousands more who go under the radar but, in their own way, contribute just as much. They are all Good Samartans in their own way. Somehow, too, we feel particularly attracted by anonymous donors, whose motives are purely altruistic. Like the anonymous donor who gave $1m to a hospital in California, to be shared equally amongst all its workers.

There are others doing incredible things, but are not blowing their own trumpets. Such as the team behind VentilatorChallengeUK, which formed mid-March in response to Covid-19, tasked by the Government with bringing together some of the UK’s top engineering firms with the aim of making ‘10 years’ worth of ventilators in 10 weeks’. One company in particular stepped up: Formula One engine-maker Mercedes AMG HPP, headed up by MD Andy Cowell. CPAP breathing devices were in short supply, so together with University College London, Cowell and his team set about reverse-engineering them so they could be produced in their thousands. They are currently manufacturing 1,000 a day and the design has been made freely available for other countries to use.

The other side of the pond, Elon Musk put his boffins to work at Tesla, tasked with making ventilators out of car parts. Which they duly did and donated thousands to hospitals - even posting a video to show how they did it.

Dame Margaret Barbour, chair of the iconic waxed-jacket company, and well known for her philanthropy, has put Barbour to good use again (the company having previous made sleeping bags and uniforms during two world wars) by helping to plug the national PPE shortage this month, producing 23,000 protective gowns for NHS front-line workers.

While the British royal family has certainly been active in the crisis, HRH Princess Sofia of Sweden has gone one further, rolling up her sleeves and taking a three-day medical course at Sophiahemmet University College in Stockholm. She is now volunteering in its hospital as a healthcare assistant. And let's not forget Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, formerly a doctor, who rolled up his sleeves to work in a hospital once a week; or Bhasha Mukherjee, Miss Great Britain, who took a career break as a junior doctor after competing in the Miss World Pageant in December 2019, and has now re-joined the front line.

As Bhasha moved from India to UK when she was 9 years old, it's worth pausing a moment to mention another Indian who definitely 'did her bit'. Kerala's health minister, KK Shailaja, helped save the state of 35 million people from the coronavirus, losing just four lives, due to her decisive and prescient actions - and is now known as The Coronavirus Slayer.

What about the seriously rich? In the UK, the best known are Britain's richest man under 30, the 7th Duke of Westminster, who donated £12.5m to NHS charities, whilst Harry Potter auther, JK Rowling, stumped up £1m to help homeless people and those affected by domestic abuse during the pandemic.

At the end of April, Forbes counted 77 billionaires who had donated to different causes to do with coronavirus relief. Let's hope that these are simply the ones who made it known what they were giving, and that all the other billionaires did their bit anonymously.

The biggest individual donation came from Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey. He is donating $1 billion – one quarter of his fortune. Bill and Melinda Gates have been very involved in the crisis through their charitable foundation. The Microsoft founder and his wife have made the second-highest private COVID-19 donation, according to Forbes, at $255m.

While the top 10 of donations is dominated by U.S. billionaires, Azim Premji of Indian IT corporation Wipro gave $132m and Andrew Forrest of Australian iron ore producer Fortescue Metals provided £100m.

It really feels like everyone is pulling together, in myriad different ways.

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