"The Kinder Transport, Computers
- Dame Stephanie Shirley
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Putting her wealth to work
The British Government's Ambassador for Philanthropy, Dame Stephanie Shirley, started her business with £6 on her dining table and turned it into hundreds of millions with the software company Xansa, adopting the nom de guerre Steve along the way to reach those crucial for her early success.
Dame Steve then put her wealth to work again with a series of projects through her Shirley Foundation, most of them focused on autism, the condition that affected her only child, Giles, who died from an epileptic fit at 35.
Born in Germany to Jewish parents, she escaped the Nazis in 1939 on a kinder transport train to be raised by a couple in the West Midlands, and turned a skill at maths and plenty of hard work into her career in computing.
From investing strategically in start-up charities – for which she was recognised with a Beacon Fellowship prize – to ensuring her foundation will spend itself out after her death, Dame Steve plans her philanthropy and gets involved to ensure the greatest impact.
She says: “It is very tempting to put £5 in someone’s collecting tin or send a cheque for a small amount but it is really almost patronising to people and it dissipates your efforts.
"I don’t just give my money; I try to give of myself. I don’t like to be just the person that just writes the cheques. I can also give business input, ideas, marketing, drive and push.”