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17 August 2012

Will the City take any lessons from the Games?

The world of finance isn't exactly filled with role models.

By David Wootton

With a record-breaking number of golds, London has learnt a key lesson from the Olympics: how to be proud of ambition and success – for the right reasons.

The Games have not just shone a spotlight on sport. London 2012 has made many of us ask ourselves what it is about our own professional or personal lives that we can be truly proud of.

Some say that the pressure to deliver and exceed expectations at the highest level has made our athletes rise to the occasion. We can all learn from them – and nowhere is this lesson more clearly understood than in the Square Mile, where on many desks Olympic screens stood alongside dealing screens.

Allegations of laundering money or fixing rates are just the most recent furores to obscure the City’s reputation. Add in questions over bonuses and concerns about the economic downturn, and is it surprising that some people perceive the City as selfish, self-absorbed, and arrogant? Not exactly role-model material.

Can the City draw on the feel-good factor of the Games?  There is a proper desire among financial services workers to rebuild trust and confidence in the City and what it does. And what is most striking is that some of this work – like that of our Olympians – is pioneered by a new generation. In sport it’s been a whole new parade of heroes; in the City’s case it has also often been young professionals who are keen to inspire others to think and do differently.

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Clearly things are changing at all levels of the City – and the autumn will bring clearer evidence of this. But among City workers in their first or second job, one powerful driver of personal change is a new approach to charitable giving. Young bankers, accountants and lawyers are meeting at film events, bars or restaurants, and getting involved in projects and the giving money through crowd-funding pledges from as little as £100 a go – but stretching upwards to much more.

In doing so they are not only delivering social benefits to worthy organisations, they are also developing their own moral compasses – and seeing how they can achieve more than mere financial rewards.

The big change has been that while philanthropy was traditionally perceived as being for those who have retired from a successful career in the City, increasingly a new generation of charitable-givers is embedding the practice throughout their whole career.

With a new initiative, City Philanthropy – A Wealth of Opportunity, which involves the City Funding Network, the City of London Corporation’s City Bridge Trust, and Philanthropy UK, I believe the City is reaching out to create a new climate of giving to deliver social good.

Harnessing the same spirit that has brought us together in the Games, this campaign seeks to create a real step-change in City culture. Philanthropy’s social benefits to beneficiaries are well known – but what is new is the appeal to young city workers of such a meaningful activity which they can embrace throughout their careers. Coming together in this way, young philanthropists can make a real impact – not only through a wealth transfer, but also by fostering a deeper awareness of personal responsibility among City workers.

Clearly changes in the law and its enforcement, in the leadership of banks, and in the process for incentivising effort are all either underway or on their way soon.

But inspiring the next generation in the City to involve themselves in philanthrophy is also part of the answer – and therefore to be welcomed – not just for the success of Europe’s financial hub, but also for the economic and social wellbeing of London and the UK as a whole.

If the Olympics are about anything they are about striving for excellence through effort and with a clear focus on the outcome desired. They are also, famously, about taking part – because of the effect that taking part has on the individual.

Philanthrophy – a good Greek word meaning the love of fellow man – is also about taking part. Taking our part in what it means to be fully a member of the only squad that really counts: Team Human Race.

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