New Gen UK Study Tour - Day 3

By: Sally Garis, New Generation of Giving Coordinator, Philanthropy Australia.

Today was the day for some of the big names in UK philanthropy. Virgin Unite and Wellcome Trust.

What a contrast in the way they operate - it was fascinating to reflect on how each organisation approaches their mission and works to create impact.


Sir. Richard Branson is most probably the world’s most famous entrepreneur, making his wealth through the conglomerate of Virgin businesses. Henry Wellcome was a physician in the early 1900s and cofounder of former multinational pharmaceutical company, Wellcome (which later sold to what is now known as GSK).

Foundation's Mission

Virgin Unite's mission is to 'unite great people and entrepreneurial ideas to reinvent how we live and work to help make people's lives better.'  This broad mission allows Branson's entrepreneurial approach to cut across many ideas and cause areas and reflects the way Branson operates and innovates in his businesses.  

Whilst Virgin Unite provides support in the areas of leadership & advocacy, entrepreneurship and business innovation, the cause area the organisation supports can cut across any sector where Sir Richard and the team see an idea they want to leverage - including health (drugs policy and end fistula campaign) ageing & the environment (the Elders and Carbon War Room Global leadership Initiatives)

Wellcome's mission has a much more specific focus - to improve health by supporting outstanding researchers' maximising the application of research and embedding medicine in culture.


Working with a core team of 25 at Virgin Unite, the foundation grants approximately £4 million pounds each year towards their various initiatives. All of the funds and overheads are covered by Virgin Group, rather than from an endowment (though Richard Branson and his family have their own charitable foundation separate to Virgin unite). 

To maximise the global reach of their campaigns, a significant amount is invested into overheads to work on branding and outreach to attract global players to join forces with Branson to achieve wide reaching impact and scale of their initiatives e.g. Carbon War Room

Wellcome is one of the world’s largest charitable organisations, providing over £750 million in grants per annum. The organisation has a staff of approximately 500 working on 5 specific research challenges that include maximising health benefits of genetics, understanding the brain, combating infectious diseases, investigating ageing and chronic diseases, the planet and health.  

Wellcome Trust has traditionally flown under the radar. It's only recently that the organisation has made a strategic decision to leverage their name and significant influence more publicly.

Impact & Takeouts

Whilst Virgin Unite and Wellcome Trust have vastly different approaches, founding missions and ages, it could be argued that both are having an enormous impact in very different ways.

The key takeout here was to align your organisation’s activities tightly with your mission and mobilising all resources at your fingertips, including your brand, reputation and convening power (in addition to funds) to leverage your impact.

New Gen UK Study Tour »

Nov. 05, 2015

 Tags: new generation of giving, new gen philanthropy

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