Ladies and Gentlemen,
I just wanted to say what a great pleasure it is to welcome you all to St. James’s Palace this evening to celebrate the success of my British Asian Trust and, above all, to thank you all for your wonderfully generous support. I know that quite a few of you have been courageous enough to come again after previous occasions and I just wanted to congratulate you on having the courage to come back again!
Some of you may not know that following on from my official visits to Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka over the past three decades or more, I just wanted to see if there was anything practical that I could do to support the unmet needs of the most disadvantaged individuals in these countries in the areas of education, enterprise and health. That is why I set up my British Asian Trust. So, by supporting carefully selected projects, often with small sums of financial assistance, we have shown how we can utterly transform the lives of those in need, creating lasting change. Working through, and in partnership with, charitable organizations on the ground, we are able to empower local communities by offering innovative and practical solutions to social and economic problems, enabling those communities to move towards self-sufficiency.
Now, I am absolutely delighted to tell you that we have already had significant success. Would you believe that since charitable operations began only just twenty-six months ago today, my Trust has been able to reach out to over 350,000 people! I know that is only a drop in the ocean in terms of the sheer number of people that there are in this part of the world, but it is I think a remarkable achievement, thanks to all of you.
I have to say that I have been immensely encouraged by the way in which prominent members of our South Asian community in the United Kingdom have come forward and offered their help, advice and support. From the likes of on-screen stars such as the irrepressible Sanjeev Bhaskar and Nitin Gantra; to professional athletes such as Isa Guha from the England Women’s Cricket Team; and musicians such as Rishi Rich, and many others – all of you have come together to guide the work of my Trust. It inspires real confidence for contributors to the Trust, individuals and corporates alike, that there are people involved in my Trust who know the situation on the ground and are concerned enough to make sure the organisations we support are doing what they say they are doing and delivering concrete results.
Well of course as you know far better than I, the past year has seen many great natural disasters with floods in Australia, Brazil, Sri Lanka and most notably of course in Pakistan. I fear there will be many more, causing ever greater devastation and tragedy, unless we rapidly and urgently address the root causes of these disasters and start to put Nature at the centre of the whole process, because we can’t have our own economy without Nature’s economy working properly. I was greatly concerned by the situation in Pakistan and was so pleased when James Caan, together with a number of concerned individuals and companies, most generously agreed to lead a ‘Seeing is Believing’ visit to Pakistan to see for themselves the situation on the ground and report back to me. This has led to the formulation of a Flood Recovery Initiative to explore how, with many of those present this evening, we can best help to restore the dignity of those affected by this terrible disaster.
Well as you can imagine, the mental trauma of these kinds of disasters is substantial. I am hopeful that during the coming year we will be able to work with organisations such as the Aman Foundation in Pakistan, which has most generously pledged its support to look specifically at the issue of mental health so that we can assist those who are suffering, encouraging them, once again, to become full participants in their communities.
The past year also took my wife and myself to India, for the opening of the Commonwealth Games. I was delighted also to be able to go to Jodhpur to see for myself some of the work that my British Asian Trust has supported with organisations such as the Jal Bhaghirathi Foundation. As you know, our guiding principle is always to try and find the unmet needs – the areas where others are unable or unwilling to venture. During my time in Jodhpur I was greatly heartened to see that we have been able to provide safe drinking water to several villages in the region by helping the villagers with water-harvesting projects, water management and water efficiency. Some of the women I met told me they used to walk seven to ten kilometres a day to collect drinking water – a journey that would have resulted in them walking three times around the Earth during their lifetime, just for water! Some of you may have seen in the newspapers that I found myself joining in a rain dance with a small umbrella…unfortunately it had no effect at all!
Another wonderful example of my Trust’s work has been the support we have been able to give to a splendid project called “Umeed,” or “Hope,” run by an organisation called “Saath” in Gujarat, India. This programme addresses the critical issue of youth unemployment – an issue that has been of concern to me, both in the United Kingdom and around the world, for the last thirty-six years. The programme was established to help residents of the slums improve their employment prospects by providing them with an opportunity to learn life-skills, technical skills and basic English. Critically, after the students finish their courses, the programme also helps them gain access to sustainable sources of employment in high-growth service centres. Most jobs are at entry level in the sectors of science and technology, finance, marketing, health and home-care services, communication and hospitality services. Approximately forty per cent of the participants are girls and, in just six months, 7,000 young people have been trained with a placement rate of 77 per cent! So, not only does this programme make a significant difference to the lives of the young people by helping them realize their full potential, it also helps transform the lives of those around them, revitalising local communities.
Ladies and gentlemen, of course none of the work of my British Asian Trust would be possible without the strong and highly effective partnerships we have developed with organisations such as Barclays Wealth, the America India Foundation, the EdelGive Foundation, Deutsche Bank and HSBC Foundation. These wonderful organizations have demonstrated just how much can be achieved to improve the lives of others by sharing resources, funding and skills. I also must just emphasize how much your guidance and support means to me in these tough economic times. I can only offer my heartfelt thanks and congratulations to all of you and encourage you not only to maintain this marvellous support in the coming year so that, together, we can help those less fortunate than ourselves, but also to see if you can recruit others to the cause. I am relying on you!