Raymond: I always wanted to do something worthwhile with my life. That is why the mantra ‘Doing good is good business’ resonated so much for me. My father – one of the founders of the Red Cross Children’s Hospital and Chairman of the Prisoner Of War Trust Fund – was a generous man. But he saw his social duty as separate from business. I wanted this sense of ‘doing good’ to permeate my business philosophy, which is why social responsibility became a core part of it.
From the first day of trading, we structured the company in such a way that a minimum five percent of net profit was automatically invested in a trust devoted to social upliftment projects. I didn’t do this for altruistic reasons alone, but because I believe that consumers will reward the businessman who shows a commitment to their community.
This is the simple model I built Pick n Pay on, and I hoped to instil this sense of social responsibility in my children, and later my grandchildren, by encouraging them to participate in what we now call the Ackerman Family Philanthropy Council. As soon as any of the grandchildren turns 16, he or she is eligible to join. This provides them with the opportunity to get involved in social issues from a young age, as each family unit decides how their part of the trust is spent.
When my children were growing up they always urged me to do more. They were right. It’s their turn now.
Suzanne: We were lucky to grow up in an atmosphere of giving; to never take our privileges for granted. My parents made us very aware of the inequalities of the day, but it was as a student at UCT, working with the Shawco medics in the townships during the 1980s, that I realised I could not live with it. It was wrenching to leave, and I was immeasurably grateful when I was able to return in 1995 and play my part.
I think it is very easy for the privileged to experience philanthropy as a simple assuaging of guilt. But throwing money at objects of pity and hoping this will make it all go away is a hollow experience, and makes no long-term difference. The issues are complex and require more than money. What is needed is for South Africans to share expertise and donate time in order to nurture and develop talent.
I am very fortunate to be in a position to use my interest in the entrepreneurial process to help fledgling businesses gain access to the market, and provide mentorship at the same time. The Ackerman Foundation has spent over R65 million on projects that have directly resulted in new jobs, developed new skills and created brand new enterprises. In the past year alone, we spent R9.4 million on young entrepreneurs and emerging farmers.
This kind of philanthropy – with your eyes wide open, looking deeply at what is required to make a lasting difference and sharing your skills – enriches you as a human being. It’s how we set each other free.
Are we passing this philanthropic urge onto the next generation? That’s a difficult question. We try to instil the same values in our children but how do you force a child to be generous? You can’t. So we expose them as much as possible to people who are less privileged, and applaud them when they give. My eldest daughter, a filmmaker, recently donated her time to make a wonderful video about the Smile Foundation’s reconstructive surgery work at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital, and it made me inordinately proud.
Like kindness, compassion and generosity cannot be taught. You need to lead by example; to actively show the next generation what philanthropy is, and how much joy giving brings – not just to the recipient, but to the person who gives. As my mother said when we received the Inyathelo Award for family philanthropy in 2007: ‘Everybody can be a philanthropist. It’s just a fancy word for helping your neighbour. The more you give, the more you get back’.
Raymond Ackerman was rated by the Financial Times among the World’s Top 100 Most Respected Businessmen and was also the first South African to receive the international Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship. Aside from the countless projects supported by the Pick n Pay/Ackerman Foundation, the Ackerman Family Trust has supported 600 university graduates. In his own capacity, he has established the Zama Dance School, two Raymond Ackerman Academies of Entrepreneurial Development and the Raymond Ackerman Golf Academy.
Suzanne Ackerman and her sister Kathy, her mother Wendy and her father Raymond were recipients of the Inyathelo Family Philanthropy Award in 2007. Suzanne is also a Melvin Jones Fellow, an Honorary Guardian of the Red Cross Children’s Hospital, and a Trustee of the Smile Foundation.
Source details: First published in 2012, in the Nedbank Private Wealth Giving Report II