Tony Blair Wins Philanthropist of the Year Award
04 Sep 2014
Tony Blair was awarded the Philanthropist of the Year Award from GQ on 2 September in recognition of his charity work both at home and abroad. The social media discussions and other reaction, as ever intense, have asked the question - why?
As someone who runs one of Tony Blair's biggest philanthropic efforts, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation (of which he is the patron and founder), there is an obvious answer. Because Tony Blair's vision of progress for the issues he cares most passionately about – religion's impact in the world, advancement in Africa, and using sport to help life chances – is making a real difference.
Having joined the Foundation six years ago, and been its Chief Executive for the last two years, I know exactly the transformative force that our founder has tried to unleash. The Foundation is dedicated to providing practical support to prevent religious conflict and extremism in order to promote a more stable and open-minded society. Tony Blair's vision seven years ago was that the impact of religion on geopolitics was going to change the world and we needed practical solutions to address it.
Seven years on and look at the world today. There is a profound struggle going on. The Middle East is in chaos, Africa is increasingly volatile - not to mention Pakistan, South East Asia - but also the UK and Europe are not immune. In a highly complex area of geopolitics that is becoming increasingly urgent, there is simply no shortcut to understanding religion in the world.
The Tony Blair Faith Foundation works in 30 countries globally with current and future leaders and the next generation. Its objective is to empower people with the knowledge and skills to learn from, and live alongside, people of all faiths and none to secure more peaceful societies in the future. We work through a combination of education – informing the world about the way in which religion impacts on it – and exposure – facilitating encounter with those of different faiths, cultures and beliefs in order to engender open-minded attitudes and resilience against extremist voices. We have reached over 100,000 students through our global schools programme, and have a network of 30 universities.
We have also brought different faith communities together in Sierra Leone to work in tandem to support community cohesion. They have been spreading life-saving malaria prevention messages – so far we have reached two million people in a country of six million in under three years. And this year we have launched a new online resource that provides timely and compelling analysis because we believe that a more informed scrutiny of the religious dimension could ultimately contribute to more secure and stable societies.
We know our approach works, and we also know that we are only a drop in the ocean. We incubate our ideas, work with governments and other international organisations to scale up our projects – and give them away. And this is no vanity project – we aim for meaningful impact at every stage.
Similarly in Africa – from when he put Africa on the agenda at the G8 at Gleneagles 2005, Tony Blair has intrinsically believed that the continent cannot move forward without good governance. The work of his Africa Governance Initiative provides support to Africa's governments to deliver services to improve people's lives and is now based in six countries. So far it has improved the power sector in Rwanda, the road network in Sierra Leone and energy infrastructure in Liberia. Children no longer do their homework by candlelight, farmers can get their goods to market and, in Liberia, the country now has far better internet access improving opportunity at every level.
And in the North East of the UK, through the Tony Blair Sports Foundation, more than 3,800 sports coaches are volunteering in schools and clubs, helping to train young people and strengthening their communities through involvement in sport.
So – when the social media conversations claim not to understand why this award has been given, let's look at the real evidence. I am proud of all the staff and supporters of the foundation who work tirelessly and with immense dedication in some of the most challenging areas of the world. I know my counterparts in Tony Blair's other charitable organisations feel the same way whether they are trying to lift people out of poverty, promote peace and prosperity or support community cohesion. We are all delighted that GQ has chosen to recognize this work.