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"One cannot determine the
length of one's life but you can
determine the width of it;
philanthropy widens life."

                - Alec Reed

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Workers for mankind

Alec Reed has spent his life launching and building organisations, from a series of successful businesses to a range of charities and his latest project: a major new online channel for philanthropy.

The office clerk who went on to found his eponymous recruitment company is now in his 70s but has lost none of his enthusiasm for innovation, with his new "virtual charity",, challenging both charities to pitch effectively for funding and philanthropists to seek out opportunities, often with a cash-matching incentive built in to prompt millions of pounds in extra donations.

He says the idea came from realising that "there's no shop window if someone wants to give large amounts of money away", so the Big Give is a low cost, anonymous route for the wealthy to match their passions to a project and make direct contact with exactly the right person in the charity of their choice.

And it has won plenty of support, with £8 million contributed for charities in a single week in late 2009, and its Board of Philanthropists including businessmen Lord Gavron and Sir Adrian Cadbury,'s Martha Lane-Fox and Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow.

Reed likes to keep things simple, with a small group of staff tucked away in a corner of his commercial offices in London to manage much of his philanthropic engagement, which ranges from his Reed Foundation to the charity Ethiopiaid, and roles as trustee, funder or supporter of many charities, whether Oxfam, Help the Aged or War on Want.

Education is another strong interest, with the Reed Business School, visiting or honorary professorships with several universities, the Academy of Enterprise to promote the teaching of business throughout the UK, a one million Rand grant to the Nelson Mandela Foundation to support education in South Africa and £2 million to establish a school in west London.

Much of the funding he has invested in philanthropy comes from his foundation's ownership of almost one-fifth of the shares in the Reed group of companies, and he has been quoted saying that he advises his workforce that "one day a week they’re working for mankind, they’re not working for Reed"