I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up but I have somehow landed what for me is the best job the world. In my role as development officer for the Faculty of Humanities at The University of Manchester I get to meet a remarkable number of wonderful people and support a fantastic institution and its outstanding students and academics.
Originally from across the Pennines, I came to Manchester via Cambridge where I first became involved in philanthropy as a telephone campaigner in my final year at Christ’s College. After a couple of years in publishing I returned to the University of Cambridge taking responsibility for communications and development for their humanities research centre before I headed north again.
Humanities at Manchester is very inclusively defined and much of its activity is brought together around the theme of addressing global inequalities. Within the past week alone I have found myself in conversations with intelligent and enthusiastic individuals working in areas as diverse as papyri fragments in the John Rylands Library, humanitarian response to the Ebola outbreak, creative entrepreneurialism in war-affected DR Congo, pathways out of reoffending, race relations and schools outreach, and new collaborations in contemporary music.
Much of my time is spent out of the office meeting with the University’s alumni and friends. Manchester alumni always offer a very warm welcome and it is a pleasure to hear about their time at university and all that they have achieved since. Often, their current profession on the surface bears little relation to their degree programme but people can usually point to something about the Manchester experience that has had a profound effect on the people they are today.
Back on campus, I find myself in the privileged position of seeing first-hand the transformative impact of philanthropy and it is this that inspires me to get out from under the duvet on Manchester’s winter mornings. As I arrive at work I pass the Manchester Business School where ground has been broken on a major redevelopment project to create an executive education centre and enhanced School buildings, as well as a new hotel. This makeover has been made possible through the support of a number of philanthropists, significantly the recent landmark gift from Lord Alliance. I am reminded again of the centrality of philanthropy to the foundations of the University as I enter the John Owens Building where the fundraising team is based. This building like its neighbours in the old quadrangle – Beyer, Whitworth, Christie – celebrates the contribution of these generous benefactors.
I also get to meet some of the students and researchers supported through philanthropy, and it is these individuals who are the best advocates for the impact of philanthropy. Let me introduce you here to just one of our students, Gulwali Passarlay. Gulwali arrived in Bolton having fled Afghanistan aged 12 and journeyed here on his own through ten countries. Despite setbacks and the language barrier he achieved remarkable success in and out of school and with the support of the Manchester Access Programme he is now reading for a BA in Politics and Philosophy at The University of Manchester. When he is older, he aspires to be the President of Afghanistan, and meeting him you can well believe that he will achieve this.
I’ve been lucky enough to join the University’s alumni office at the most exciting time: Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell has the vision to propel Manchester into the top 25 universities globally by 2020, and with the support of alumni and friends, we have the means to ensure that this vision is realised. Philanthropy is critical to Manchester, acting as a catalyst to advance pivotal areas of research and to support individuals who would not otherwise have the opportunity to study, work and thrive here.
On Thursday 26 March The University of Manchester will celebrate its first Philanthropy Day on campus. I look forward to seeing philanthropy at work and having the chance to thank some of the University’s most valued supporters.