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60 second interview - Kerr leads wave of charitable good intent at Halcrow

NEWS

This week saw the official launch of the Halcrow Foundation, an independent charity set up by the engineering outfit to deliver improvement projects in deprived areas around the world. Board chairman David Kerr tells Alasdair Reisner about his plans.

How did you end up running the foundation?

We decided to set up the Halcrow Foundation following a pressing desire from Halcrow staff after the tsunami on Boxing Day 2004 to do something to help out.

We decided to make it formal and I was asked to chair the foundation. In my day job I am a group board director at Halcrow. I am quite passionate about development so I think they thought I was the right person for the job. They have given me all the time I need to do the job.

How have you got things running?

A lot of money was raised initially in response to the tsunami and we are learning as we go along how it is to be spent.

We are seeking to use the Halcrow network of offices around the world, so any good cause we decide to support has a local Halcrow person who can go and check them out to make sure the money is well spent.

How much money does the foundation have?

We had a lot of money coming in because Halcrow has donated half a per cent of profits, which we hope will increase over time. We have also been able to set up gift aid for staff so they can contribute on a monthly basis. We had a sponsored walk in the Brecon Beacons and we are exploring the tax laws in the USA so that global staff can give to the foundation like those in the UK.

Isn't there a danger you are trying to become the next Oxfam or Save the Children?

I don't want to step on the toes of the non-Governmental organisations but we do have benefits compared to them in that we are not bureaucratic, so we can just identify a project and get on with it within weeks, giving the aid straight to the recipient. I'm not willing to put a size on how big we can become because there is a danger you can get too big.

You then run the risk of becoming parallel to the NGOs.

We want to supplement the work they do, doing projects they might overlook.

How do you choose your projects?

Anyone who has an idea for a project can fill in an application. We try to test each proposal to see how tangible it is, whether it will create a sustainable improvement such as better health or infrastructure for a community. One of Halcrow's values is that the community is a stakeholder, so if we can see there is a community benefit we will support a project.

Where projects are you currently working on?

We are working on ablution blocks in Nairobi and drilling of boreholes in Malawi. They are very specific projects to address a specific local need.

We are even looking in the UK at education projects in Edinburgh.