The season of goodwill

04 Dec 1998 View Comments
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Steve Shirley's £5 million donation to the Worshipful Company Information Technologists (WCIT) this week is her way of paying back the IT industry that made her a millionaire.

The massive donation from Shirley, former head of computing services and training organisation FI Group, is being used to provide a permanent address for the WCIT, the City of London's 100th livery company.

Shirley believes the company's 600 members will benefit from having a permanent base from which to develop their charitable and educational facilities.

The WCIT took possession of its own freehold premises in the City's Bartholomew Close this week, after operating from loaned offices since 1992.

Shirley said: 'By having its own premises, the WCIT will be able to show it is here long-term to concentrate on its objectives of education, training and commerce.'

Some of WCIT's planned initiatives include providing hospital schools with PC equipment for long-term young patients; training teachers on how to make IT relevant in the classroom, and promoting greater communication between London's financial sectors.

Shirley hopes other IT leaders will follow her example and give the industry a stronger sense of position in society: 'We're the nouveau riche - not in the habit of making significant donations or contributions. I hope to kick-start people of my generation who have made serious money, into giving something back.'

Being in the ranks of traditional livery companies with their image of cigar-puffing, port-swilling gents does not worry Shirley: 'The livery companies can be rigid, but we are informal,' she says. 'Our average age is 40. We are mixing the old with the new. There is a great feeling of old-fashioned fellowship, but we are shaping ideas of the future.'

Thinking of the future is nothing new to Shirley. Born Stephanie, she masculated her name in the 1960s to overcome sexism and get people to take her entrepreneurial ideas seriously.

'With a little vision, you can start a company without much money,' she says. 'FI Group began with an investment of £6.'

Shirley attributes her need to be first to her past as a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust. 'I have come from a difficult background and learned that you must create your own future.'

Shirley hopes her attitude will galvanise the WCIT: 'Charity should not be done by stealth. Putting 50p in a poor box is demeaning. It's about casting a pebble in the water and creating waves.'

In what seemed like a week of charitable deeds, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates moved a step closer to his stated goal of giving away his entire fortune before he dies by donating $20 million to the Seattle public library.

'This gift will ensure that the Seattle public library continues to connect people with the information they need,' said his wife Melinda, who jointly donated the money.

The donation comes from the $2 billion William H Gates Foundation, which Gates set up to focus on issues including world health, population and education.[qq] Lisa Kelly

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