Jack Petchey CBE

Eighty-nine-year-old Jack Petchey CBE is an investor in young people. Born and brought up in the East End of London, Petchey became one of the most successful businessmen in Britain through car and property sales, and is now one of its most ardent philanthropists. Through the Jack Petchey Foundation, formed in 1999, he will have invested over £100m in young people by the end of 2015. His mission is to promote innovative youth programmes that instil a sense of self-belief in youngsters to help them take advantage of opportunities and play a full part in society. It is founded on the mantra: “If I think I can, I can.”

“I have gained a lot from life, a lot of experience and a lot of material things and I wanted to give something back to society. I think it is all our responsibility to give something back, whatever our position in life; we can always help others in some way. I tell this to the young people too – they can make a vast difference by supporting others and I believe they will gain more than they give!”

Petchey is the life force of the foundation, providing leadership, inspiring and motivating people aged between 11 and 25, and showing them they can make a difference and improve their lives. The foundation was established to engage more creatively with charities and strive for good practice in its decision-making. “There is more to philanthropy than just giving money to good causes. It helps the charities to sharpen their practice if you get them to think about what they are trying to achieve and ask questions to help them achieve that more effectively. In this way we get a relationship with the charities and can help by bringing our expertise from the business world too. We are concerned with measurable impact – you have to know the difference you make,” explains Petchey.

The three largest youth programmes are the Jack Petchey Achievement Awards that gets £2.6m into 2,000 grassroots youth organisations and schools every year, in order to recognise and reward young people’s achievements. “Awardees are chosen by their peers and the £200 award they receive has to be invested in their youth organisation – so they get a sense of philanthropy too,” says Petchey. Jack Petchey’s Speak Out Challenge trains almost 20,000 15-year-olds in public speaking each year raising their confidence, self-esteem and ability to communicate. “It is magical to see how this helps them develop,” says Petchey.

Step into Dance offers professional weekly dance training after school to almost 6,000 young people who otherwise would not have the opportunity. Young men on the verge of exclusion from schools, young people with disabilities, have all learnt team work, discipline and found a way to express themselves publicly through dance. Among numerous other charitable schemes, in 2006 the Petchey Academy that specialises in health, care and medical sciences was established in Hackney with a £2m contribution from the foundation which enjoys a close relationship as sponsor.

“In giving locally, you have to be a realist – you can’t do everything and solve the problems of the world, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything,” says Petchey.