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&#35;WithRefugees: Commentary by Paola De Leo <br>Head of Philanthropy, Henley & Partners

10 April 2017


“Let no one be discouraged by the belief that there is nothing one person can do against the enormous array of the world's ills, misery, ignorance, and violence. Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. And in the total of all those acts will be written the history of a generation.” (Robert Kennedy)

This thought-provoking and poignant quote summarizes the intrinsic beliefs of Henley & Partners and its Philanthropy and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Department.

The Department is headed by Paola de Leo, the previous Head of Global Private Philanthropy at the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees.

Henley & Partners’ policy had always included investing in a significant number of philanthropic initiatives. Since 2014, the firm, aware and concerned with the increasing number of displaced families around the world, has engaged in a partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in support of refugee registration and documentation programs.

“Today we are witnesses to the largest global move away from conflict since the end of the Second World War,” explains Paola. “Supporting displaced refugee families is a natural philanthropic match for a firm dealing with citizenship and residence all over the world — it is really about helping those at the other end of the mobility spectrum.”

The Philanthropy Department will now drive and expand Henley & Partners’ CSR program even further. Tasked with bringing a more strategic approach to the development and promotion of philanthropic activities, Paola has many plans, including elevating awareness and fundraising.

“We will, at first, gather and harmonize the ongoing commitments and initiatives the firm has launched in recent years. These include the Global Citizen Award, an annual fundraiser for UNHCR and other existing and planned projects,” Paola continues.

“We also hope to further develop our partnerships with UNHCR while establishing collaborations with other ‘agents of change’, academia and social entrepreneurs to create an even larger and more powerful network. Ultimately, our strategic vision is to create a platform able to engage our staff, clients and partners to work together to impact on the issues that matter to all of us and to the world.”

Paola, who is 52, was born in Rome, although she lived in London for most of her life. In the last 15 years, she has specialized in high-level philanthropy and worked to set up global private philanthropy programs for various international organizations. While at UNHCR, she collaborated with Henley & Partners over a two-year period and this collaboration contributed to her decision to join the company full-time.

“I made my decision to move to Henley & Partners in full agreement with UNHCR itself, as I believe I can contribute to further Henley & Partners’ CSR program and scale up our support to refugees,” she said.

Paola explains that the CSR of a company goes beyond philanthropy to include all the appropriate policies that guarantee the integrity and sustainability of business: respect of employees, control of the supply chain and an active participation to the community within which the firm operates.

“While Henley & Partners’ business approach is aimed towards responsibility and integrity, our choice to support the refugee cause represents our way to contribute to the global community we feel part of; our own way of being ‘good corporate citizens’.”

Henley & Partners’ new Philanthropy Department aims to provide a transparent, formalized structure to corporate giving as well as promote engagement, raise awareness and mobilize resources amongst the firm’s staff, partners and prestigious clients. To pursue this last objective, the firm is also considering the establishment of a dedicated foundation, a non-profit entity that would create the necessary separation from the corporate business and its own philanthropic activities and increase transparency and accountability.

“In our experience, individuals who recognize themselves as global citizens are also people who naturally place their identity as part of a global community over and above their identity as a citizen of a particular nation or place,” she explains. “They perceive a global responsibility and are concerned with global causes. 

“When such individuals also happen to be people of high net worth, as all of our clients are, their participation in supporting causes by way of contributing skills, expertise and financial resources can be substantial enough to shift scenarios and achieve relevant results.

“The refugee cause will remain central to the firm’s commitment but the new foundation will also look at other ‘global issues’ in line with our clients’ philanthropic interests. There are 18 areas identified by the UN as ‘global issues’ as they ‘transcend national boundaries and cannot be resolved by any one country acting alone’. These include health, women and girls, education and the environment.”

For many years, Paola has also been advocating the urgency for increased focus on Asian markets in an effort to leverage the financial growth and the positive energy of the region and promote the significant commitment of Asian ultra high net worth individuals and philanthropists in the world.

“Cultural values and philanthropic drivers that inspire giving can be so substantially different in the various regions of the world. We are aiming to develop a cohesive approach for the Asian region in respect of its specific interest,” Paola continues. “We have numerous partners and clients in this region who are becoming more involved in humanitarian and development work and who are deeply interested in innovative approaches to the solution of global issues.”

She added that the Middle East private philanthropy would also continue to play an important role, having already given the world admirable contributions in support of humanitarian causes.

“Henley & Partners offers this incredible opportunity to reach out to a large network and to some of the new and growing philanthropic markets. We will commit our effort, expertise and innovative spirit to leverage this opportunity. However, we recognize that our work cannot happen in isolation and we hope to have all Henley & Partners’ staff, partners, clients and friends support in helping us to realize our collective goals,” Paola concluded.