Unite is the working name of The Virgin Foundation,
the independent charitable arm of the Virgin Group.
Created by Richard Branson and Virgin employees
in September 2004, Virgin Unite pools volunteering
efforts from across the Virgin Group and its hundreds
of subsidiaries and associated companies to grow
the efforts of smaller grassroots charitable organizations.
Partnered with more than a dozen charities worldwide
the company also provides a resource through the
Internet by serving as an online donation centre
for those wanting to contribute.
primary aims of the foundation are to make sustainable
change through economic development towards tough
social and environmental issues. These include
addressing the issue of delivering healthcare
to rural parts of Africa.
Branson and Virgin underwrite all the operating
costs of the organization, so 100% of contributions
can be applied towards causes.
charitable organizations - 1987
AIDS was first recognized on June 5, 1981. In
1986, it was reported that three to five million
Americans would be HIV positive and one million
would be dead of AIDS by 1996. In response to
such reports, Virgin incorporated a charitable
group called The Healthcare Foundation on August
3, 1987 to provide research in and education about
AIDS. In July 1988, the foundation's charitable
objectives expanded to include the relief of poverty
and the relief of disabled persons from their
Unite - 2004
In 2003, the foundation sought to determine what
others thought it should focus on. After spending
six months speaking with social issues groups,
Virgin Group suppliers and partners, and numerous
Virgin staff members in South Africa, Australia,
the United States and the United Kingdom, the
organization concluded that many people and companies
were deterred from participating in philanthropic
activities by the complexities of the charity
sector. The foundation sought then to use the
Virgin Group's corporate and organizational experience
to identify the best practices in this sector
and to facilitate the entry of new participants.
1987 and 2004, Virgin Unite operated first as
The Healthcare Foundation and then the The Virgin
Healthcare Foundation. In mid-September 2004,
Virgin established the subsidiary The Virgin Foundation
doing business as Virgin Unite in the United Kingdom
to coordinate all Virgin's worldwide charitable
ventures. Citing the spread of HIV in Africa and
the twin problems of malaria and malnutrition
as the first priority issues, Branson explained
his reasoning behind Virgin Unite:
reached the age  where I've made a lot of
money, the companies are going really well and
we've got a lot of talented people working for
us. Now we are going to turn our business skills
into tackling issues around the world where we
can help. ... In the next 30 years or so I can
make an enormous difference to a lot of people's
lives just by using the strength of my own brand
name and being able to pick up the phone and get
through to the President of Nigeria or Thabo Mbeki.
We have the financial resources and the business
know-how. If the Virgin foundation works as I
hope it will, it could be that Virgin becomes
better known for that than for the businesses
we are in.
Virgin Unite has created a branding scheme based
around the idea of redemption to encourage Virgin
company employees to donate their time, rather
than their money, to one of twelve partner charities.
The launch scheme included the strapline 'Spend
time with your better side', a brochure, posters
and promotional items that juxtapose the seven
deadly sins with seven good deeds: lust is contrasted
with love, for instance, and gluttony with generosity.
According to Virgin Unite, this approach was largely
driven by the principles of having fun and celebrating
the reality of how people live their lives, while
encouraging them to donate time.
Also in 2004, Virgin Unite helped launch "Your
Finest Hour," a campaign that distributed
more than one million copies of educational materials
across the United Kingdom. The campaign also raised
more than GB£50,000 for South Africa's "Women
on the Move Project," a project that unites
three South African charities and targets vulnerable
young women between ages 15 and 24, who comprise
four of every five new HIV infections among South
Africans in this demographic. For these actions,
Virgin Unite received the Business Excellence
Leadership award from the Global Business Coalition
on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GBC) in
In 2006, Virgin Unite established itself in the
United States and Canada and presently is operational
in the South Africa and Australia. In addition,
Virgin Unite was cited in 2006 as an example of
organizations founded by philanthropic entrepreneurs,
young billionaires putting the benefits of capitalism
to charitable use.
The foundation is involved in several activities,
including to end obstetric fistula. It has also
been involved in youth AIDS awareness campaign,
and helped organize a clothing drive for homeless
and at-risk youth at Virgin Megastores in cooperation
with the charity StandUp for Kids. A main activity
of Virgin Unite is to raise money and awareness
to help defeat on a global scale what the foundation
refers to as The Big 3: AIDS, HIV, and malaria/tuberculosis.
In the United States, Virgin Unite is focusing
on global warming and rehabilitating homeless
Blue Hanger Ball
and Community Entrepreneurs
Branson and Greg
Tingle (Media Man Australia director) - Virgin
Blue Hanger Ball 2008 - Red Jet Foundation
and Virgin Unite
him the $2-million man, by Tenille Bonoguore -
16th Feb 2008
Globe and Mail)
end of Bay Street. Late Wednesday afternoon. Sir
Richard Branson has just leaped from his chair,
dropped to the floor and is groping around under
the long, long boardroom desk.
dozen or so people in the room look to each other,
confused giggles escaping through frozen smiles.
A couple of heads awkwardly bend down, trying
to see what's going on.
a flash of burnished hair and a manic grin, Mr.
Branson suddenly reappears. He holds aloft the
foot of Toronto businessman Eric Sprott and starts
polishing the shoe with his coat sleeve.
room erupts with laughter as Mr. Branson, looking
less rock star than sun-weathered African adventurer,
gives exuberant thanks for the $2-million donation
the Sprott Foundation has just given to Virgin
Unite Canada. "That is really unbelievably
generous," he says.
donation matches the amount raised in November
when Virgin Unite Canada had its grand, star-studded
launch in Toronto.
Unite is the non-profit "entrepreneurial
foundation" of the Virgin Group. Its overheads
are paid by Mr. Branson and all donations funnelled
directly to projects. The charity works with partners
around the world on social and environmental issues.
Its most heavily publicized project of late is
Heaven's Angels, which sends health-care workers
on motorbikes into remote sub-Saharan areas to
deliver essential services.
Unite managing director Jean Oelwang says partner
projects in Toronto dealing with youth and the
environment are also being investigated, something
Mr. Branson says helps maintain a philanthropic
are places overseas that desperately need help,
there are Canadians that also need help. It's
a balance thing [between] charity at home and
also charity overseas," he says. "Of
course, we're very happy helping them spend their
donation also earned Juliana Sprott, Mr. Sprott's
daughter and the manager of the family's foundation,
an impromptu invitation to Mr. Branson's game
reserve, Ulusaba, while
she is in Africa later this year to see Virgin
Unite's work on the ground. (Lodge rooms at Ulusaba
start at $550 per person per night.)
just built a little hospital just outside the
game reserve, so you don't have to feel guilty,"
Mr. Branson grinned to her in an aside. "You
can go and visit the hospital as well."
is the fourth-largest donation made by the Sprott
Foundation, which is also a substantial supporter
of Carleton University, the Canadian Hunger Foundation
and stem-cell research.
Sprott - whose stunning private art collection
fills the Bay Street office and includes Inuit
sculptures, works by the Group of Seven, Jean-Paul
Riopelle and even van Gogh - said it was important
that philanthropy had both front men like Mr.
Branson and donors like himself.
this day and age, there's lots of people who've
made a fair amount of money," Mr. Sprott
said. "It's a matter of convincing those
people they can make a difference today, instead
of when someone is reading their will."
nonprofit Virgin Unite aims high
Charitable arm of Virgin companies flexes its
muscle around the world -
19th March 2008
month, Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s
work on behalf of a specific cause. This month,
we profile British entrepreneur and adventurer
Sir Richard Branson and his involvement with Virgin
Unite, the charitable arm of his Virgin companies.
What makes Virgin Unite unique among other not-for-profits?
It’s not necessarily unique, but what we
try to do is use our entrepreneurial skills to
look at social problems in the world and see whether
we can set about attacking the problems, perhaps
slightly differently than they’ve been tackled
in the past. So for instance, in Africa we’ve
seen lots of different organizations doing lots
of good works, but there’s no coordination.
So we’re using our entrepreneurial skills
to set up a War Room which can coordinate all
these efforts and look for best practices and
try to alert people to new diseases and alert
people to the best ways of tackling the problems
that are out there at the moment. … We’ve
also used our entrepreneurial skills to set up
an organization called The Elders, headed up by
Nelson Mandela. He’s appointed 12 global
Elders who can look at conflicts and see whether
there’s a better way of addressing them
and use their moral authority to either try to
prevent conflicts or stop conflicts. … And
rather than just maybe handing out big checks
we’re setting up things like the Branson
School of Entrepreneurship in Jo-berg (Johannesburg)
to try to teach young people from the townships
how to become entrepreneurs and how they can build
their own companies. And we’re investing
we’re investing in Africa quite a lot of
the profits from our other companies to try and
create jobs … that can help get the continent
back on its feet.
What is your role with the organization?
Well Jean Oelwang runs the organization magnificently
and I dive in there for tea (laughs). …
I make speeches around the world and 100 percent
of any money I make from my speeches goes to Virgin
Unite. I fundraise and obviously work quite hard
on Virgin companies to make more money so we can
put more money into Virgin Unite. I take entrepreneurs
to Africa to show them first hand of what’s
going on there and then with new organizations
that we’ve set up, like The Elders or the
War Room, I’ll treat it like setting up
a company, finding the best people to run them
and then leaving them to get on and do the job.
Is there a particular experience you’ve
had while working with the organization that has
been memorable above the rest or had a significant
impact on you?
Well there was a waiter named Donald who worked
for a game lodge we have in Africa and, unbeknown
to myself, he had AIDS and he ended up I’m
afraid dying of AIDS. He was 24 or 25 years old
and he was a poet and he left some words which
were very moving. He talked about AIDS not being
a disease but a war. .. As a result I decided
that nobody who ever worked at a Virgin company
should die of AIDS…. So we set something
up called the Naught-Percent Challenge and that
was the naught percent of people that worked for
Virgin companies would contract HIV, naught percent
would ever get AIDS and naught percent of mothers
who had HIV would pass on their HIV to their children.
And then we set out to educate the 55,000 people
that work for Virgin to make sure that we don’t
have any more Donalds at Virgin, and we haven’t,
to my knowledge, lost anybody since Donald died
and we don’t plan to. We plan to use that
as an example to other companies to try to do
Why should people support Virgin Unite?
Virgin Unite is involved in a whole lot of different
areas. For instance, we have a program called
Fistula, where we’re trying to (assist)
the million young girls in Africa who often were
forced to become pregnant at a horribly young
age -- 9,10,11,12,13 years old – and then
had a child and had their insides ripped to pieces
and became incontinent. They’re often rejected
by their family, living on the streets and they
stink to high heavens. For $200 we can give them
a small operation which means they can be back
in society again and live a normal life. Natalie
Imbruglia, who’s one of our Virgin Unite
ambassadors, she’s trying to make sure any
anyone with fistula is sorted out. We also have
teams of people on motor bikes going out into
the depths of Africa and trying to make sure that
they cover the last mile and get medicine out
to places where they don’t normally get
medicine and medical help. But also back home
in places like America, … there’s
a big homeless problem amongst young people, so
we’re trying to work hard to try to get
people off the streets. One of our ambassadors
is Jewel, the singer, who was once homeless on
the streets of America for a year. She does a
lot of work in that area.
What did winning the U.N. Correspondents Association’s
Citizen of the Year award mean to you and how
does that connect with your work with Virgin Unite?
There’s always a figurehead in any organization
and I’m the figurehead for Virgin Unite
and for the Virgin companies. We’ve got
fantastic people out there working really hard
and trying to make a difference in the world,
whether it’s the environment or in Africa
and I suppose this award symbolizes all the work
that they’ve been doing. I think they can
all feel extremely proud of what they’ve
managed to achieve in the last year, particularly
I think with setting up The Elders as a global
organization to try to prevent conflict.
What does the future hold for Sir Richard Branson
and Virgin Unite? What do you hope to accomplish?
Well look, we’d love to see a where people
do not die of unnecessary causes and we’ll
work hard towards trying to make peoples lives
a little bit more bearable.
by Giacinta Pace, NBC News
and Community Entrepreneurs