Irish Recluse is Biggest Benefactor
A son of the late Tony Ryan, co-founder of Ryanair, has emerged as one of Ireland’s leading philanthropists, having donated €27m in five years to worthy causes through his One Foundation.
Even though he was named Irish Philanthropist of the Year in 2008, the scale of Declan Ryan’s charitable work only emerged last week. Ryan, 45, shuns publicity and refuses to have his picture taken in public.
Last week the foundation, which he co-founded with Deirdre Mortell and is named after the U2 song, issued a report into its activities. This revealed that in the past five years it has supported 35 non-profit organisations in Ireland and Vietnam. The decision to publicise its activities was taken because “we want to show how philanthropy can have an impact and encourage people to make the decision to give”, said Mortell.
The One Foundation’s donations include development funds for established organisations such as the Barnardo’s children’s charity and start-up charities such as Big Brother Big Sister, which matches adult mentors with 1,000 children.
It has also founded new groups such as Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, which has provided seed capital for 116 activists working in areas such as support for former prisoners and encouraging eco-friendly lifestyles. It has backed campaigns including the Children’s Rights Alliance, which has lobbied the government to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In a Sunday Times interview last year Ryan said he believed in the line from One, the U2 song, which says: “We’ve got to carry each other.” He said he had examined what US philanthropists had achieved, as “the Americans are the best when it comes to philanthropy”, and stressed that money from the foundation comes with conditions. “It is the venture philanthropy model: if you don’t deliver, you won’t be getting [funding] in the second year.”
He said he is interested in “nudging” people to give by explaining the personal rewards of being charitable. “People should do whatever they want with their hard-earned money,” he said. “But what I would say is: it is very exciting and challenging doing the One Foundation.”
Mortell said: “Somebody has got to push and we hope that putting the money on the table will help do that. It is hard for state funding to be experimental or innovate because it is hard for it to give risky money.”
Mortell said the One Foundation is working with other philanthropists including Denis O’Brien and NTR and hopes to work with more. Its biggest partner is Chuck Feeney’s Atlantic Philanthropies, which has already given billions to Ireland, much of it to third-level education. “Atlantic has matched every €1 spent by One with €1.13 of its own funding in nine organisations,” she said. “If you take business principles and use them to invest in non-profit organisations, it can have a really high impact.”
The One Foundation, she said, uses business techniques such as performance-related bonuses to help non-profit organisations grow. Over the next five years the foundation intends to concentrate 70% of its spending in “a handful of significant investments to maximise impact towards our goals”.
The foundation, she said, has seen revenues in the non-profit organisations it supports grow by 44% cumulatively. Last year, for example, it spent €8m and its partner organisations raised another €20m in new funding from other sources.
The half-way report reveals One plans to wind up its activities after 10 years. This has always been its intention, said Mortell. “We don’t know how much we will ultimately spend. It will be substantial.
“The economic downturn is going to affect us but we can’t let it hinder what we are doing. The need in Ireland is going to grow. There are going to be more children in poverty, more immigrant welfare issues as state funding gets cut.”
She added: “Philanthropy is a relay race and we really want to be passing the baton.”
Copyright 2009 Times Newspapers Ltd.