Ladies and Gentlemen, I just wanted to say what a real pleasure it is to welcome all of you to St. James’s Palace. Being aware of the many benefits brought to Britain by those whose origins lie in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh from Chicken Tikka Masala to sport, politics, commerce, science, the creative arts and, indeed, all the way to being able to use the word ‘chuddies’ in Scrabble - there was one thing I was absolutely sure of this evening. A wonderful turnout! I knew that volcanic ash was going to be no match for that famous Asian work ethic!
If I may, I also wanted to say a few words about my British Asian Trust, which has brought us together this evening and which you have all been kind enough to support in a quite remarkable diversity of ways.
As some of you may know, I established the British Asian Trust some three years ago because I had become increasingly aware that, in the course of my lifetime, more than two million people of South Asian descent had made their homes in this country and I had also become ever more acutely conscious of the, frankly, enormous contribution which they make to the well-being of the United Kingdom. This contribution is often made in a commendably quiet and understated way and I wanted to find a way to celebrate it - to say, in a small way, “thank you” for all you do. Being one of those people who much prefers action to words and believing that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts, I also wanted to help galvanize our British Asian or “BrAsian” as the Welsh might say - community to become a powerful agent of philanthropic change. I am delighted that the idea appears to have caught on and, since charitable operations started fifteen months ago, my Trust has already reached out to nearly 300,000 people. The Trust is supporting people of Asian descent who are in need in this country and, also, individuals and communities who, for whatever reason, are having to tackle disadvantage in their daily lives in South Asia.
I have to say that I have been immensely encouraged by the way in which prominent members of our “BrAsian” community have come forward and offered their help, advice and support. The sheer diversity of skills and experience on which we have been able to call really has made, I promise you, the whole difference to the quality and range of our outreach work. You will know better than me that we see the achievements of our “BrAsian” community in practically every walk of life and perhaps most notably in the fields of business, entertainment, food and sport. All of these areas are represented this evening through the outstanding Ambassadors of my British Asian Trust - people such as the Michelin-starred chef, Atul Kocchar, who has been generous and brave! enough to prepare the splendid dinner which we will be enjoying in a few moments. I was delighted earlier to be talking to one of the Dragons who inhabits television’s most famous “Den,” James Caan; and also the hugely talented and accomplished actor and comedian, Sanjeev Bhaskar, (who can pay me later for saying that about him!), to name just a few.
It is, perhaps, in South Asia that the impact of my Trust’s work is already most felt. I know only too well from my official visits over more than three decades to Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka that the combination of carefully selected projects with often quite small sums of financial assistance can utterly transform the lives of the most disadvantaged. Working through and in partnership with voluntary organizations on the ground, we are able to empower local communities by offering innovative and practical solutions to social and economic problems. In all cases we are, quite simply, trying to nurture a will to succeed. As I have found with so many of the organizations I have established over the years, including my Prince’s Trust, it is by nurturing the will to succeed that we can “flick the switch,” thereby generating confidence, self-esteem and entrepreneurial drive. This, in turn, creates a truly Virtuous and self-perpetuating Circle.
To take just one example of my Trust’s work, we have supported a really truly ground-breaking project in Maharashtra in Western India. You will know as well as me, Ladies and Gentlemen, how problems of illiteracy can act as a bar to education. And yet we have been working with a remarkable Business School for women which has found innovative ways to deliver education and training in accountancy and marketing to students in rural communities with very low levels of literacy. The school has already created, would you believe, over 11,000 new businesses led by women!
Our guiding principle is always to try to find the un-met needs; the areas that others are unable or unwilling to venture into. In Pakistan, the “Developments in Literacy” organization is helping to improve the state of education for disadvantaged girls in many of Pakistan’s mainly rural areas. At each of its schools the organization focuses on infrastructure, teacher development, curriculum development, access to technology for students and the establishment of libraries. The great strength of the project, it seems to me, is the way in which it “trains future trainers,” developing skills and building capacity to the point where individual schools can be handed over to the community who then run the schools themselves.
Incidentally, I should also just mention the work that my organizations are doing to support an initiative which I started in Punjab in 2006, after I had visited that wonderful region and seen for myself the downward spiral of debt, declining incomes and infertility of the soil, due to immense environmental problems, in which local farmers were being caught often with heartbreaking outcomes. Bhumi Vardaan, as my initiative is called, has been working with farmers to show how it is possible to farm in a way which respects Nature and restores the environment while, at the same time, generating decent incomes. (The litany of problems is quite staggering, ranging from the vast over-use of water to the consequent disappearance of the water table, combined with extensive use of chemicals and pesticides with all the predictable consequences for the health of people in these rural areas and the long term sustainability of Indian agriculture. This is not to mention, of course, the tension between the practices promoted by agri-business and more traditional methods of farming... A vicious circle indeed and one which my Bhumi Vardaan initiative offers the means to break.) I am delighted to say that our ideas have caught the eye of former President Clinton and, after the President came to see me a few months ago, we are working closely with the Clinton Foundation to “up-scale” the project.
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 organizations such as the American India Foundation, the EdelGive Foundation and individual family foundations. These splendid organizations have shown that they genuinely believe in sharing resources, funding and skills so that, working together, we can make a marked difference to people’s lives. I also want to emphasize just how much it means to me to have the vital guidance and support of our other guests this evening. I can only pray that you will continue to find the time and determination to continue this marvellous support in the future so that, together, we can help those less fortunate than ourselves.
Ladies and Gentlemen, you can have no idea how deeply grateful I am for such marvellous support.