Virgin Unite

Virgin Unite


Virgin Unite

Virgin Unite is the working name of The Virgin Foundation, the independent charitable arm of the Virgin Group. Created by Richard Branson and Virgin employees in September 2004, Virgin Unite pools volunteering efforts from across the Virgin Group and its hundreds of subsidiaries and associated companies to grow the efforts of smaller grassroots charitable organizations. Partnered with more than a dozen charities worldwide the company also provides a resource through the Internet by serving as an online donation centre for those wanting to contribute.

The primary aims of the foundation are to make sustainable change through economic development towards tough social and environmental issues. These include addressing the issue of delivering healthcare to rural parts of Africa. Branson and Virgin underwrite all the operating costs of the organization, so 100% of contributions can be applied towards causes.


Parent charitable organizations - 1987
AIDS was first recognized on June 5, 1981. In 1986, it was reported that three to five million Americans would be HIV positive and one million would be dead of AIDS by 1996. In response to such reports, Virgin incorporated a charitable group called The Healthcare Foundation on August 3, 1987 to provide research in and education about AIDS. In July 1988, the foundation's charitable objectives expanded to include the relief of poverty and the relief of disabled persons from their disabilities.

Virgin Unite - 2004
In 2003, the foundation sought to determine what others thought it should focus on. After spending six months speaking with social issues groups, Virgin Group suppliers and partners, and numerous Virgin staff members in South Africa, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, the organization concluded that many people and companies were deterred from participating in philanthropic activities by the complexities of the charity sector. The foundation sought then to use the Virgin Group's corporate and organizational experience to identify the best practices in this sector and to facilitate the entry of new participants.

Between 1987 and 2004, Virgin Unite operated first as The Healthcare Foundation and then the The Virgin Healthcare Foundation. In mid-September 2004, Virgin established the subsidiary The Virgin Foundation doing business as Virgin Unite in the United Kingdom to coordinate all Virgin's worldwide charitable ventures. Citing the spread of HIV in Africa and the twin problems of malaria and malnutrition as the first priority issues, Branson explained his reasoning behind Virgin Unite:

I've reached the age [54] where I've made a lot of money, the companies are going really well and we've got a lot of talented people working for us. Now we are going to turn our business skills into tackling issues around the world where we can help. ... In the next 30 years or so I can make an enormous difference to a lot of people's lives just by using the strength of my own brand name and being able to pick up the phone and get through to the President of Nigeria or Thabo Mbeki. We have the financial resources and the business know-how. If the Virgin foundation works as I hope it will, it could be that Virgin becomes better known for that than for the businesses we are in.

Virgin Unite has created a branding scheme based around the idea of redemption to encourage Virgin company employees to donate their time, rather than their money, to one of twelve partner charities. The launch scheme included the strapline 'Spend time with your better side', a brochure, posters and promotional items that juxtapose the seven deadly sins with seven good deeds: lust is contrasted with love, for instance, and gluttony with generosity. According to Virgin Unite, this approach was largely driven by the principles of having fun and celebrating the reality of how people live their lives, while encouraging them to donate time.

Your Finest Hour
Also in 2004, Virgin Unite helped launch "Your Finest Hour," a campaign that distributed more than one million copies of educational materials across the United Kingdom. The campaign also raised more than GB£50,000 for South Africa's "Women on the Move Project," a project that unites three South African charities and targets vulnerable young women between ages 15 and 24, who comprise four of every five new HIV infections among South Africans in this demographic. For these actions, Virgin Unite received the Business Excellence Leadership award from the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GBC) in September 2005.

Outside the UK
In 2006, Virgin Unite established itself in the United States and Canada and presently is operational in the South Africa and Australia. In addition, Virgin Unite was cited in 2006 as an example of organizations founded by philanthropic entrepreneurs, young billionaires putting the benefits of capitalism to charitable use.

The foundation is involved in several activities, including to end obstetric fistula. It has also been involved in youth AIDS awareness campaign, and helped organize a clothing drive for homeless and at-risk youth at Virgin Megastores in cooperation with the charity StandUp for Kids. A main activity of Virgin Unite is to raise money and awareness to help defeat on a global scale what the foundation refers to as The Big 3: AIDS, HIV, and malaria/tuberculosis. In the United States, Virgin Unite is focusing on global warming and rehabilitating homeless children. (Credit: Wikipedia).



Sir Richard Branson

Natalie Imbruglia

Virgin Blue Hanger Ball

The Elders

Social and Community Entrepreneurs



Richard Branson and Greg Tingle (Mediaman director) - Virgin Blue Hanger Ball 2008 - Red Jet Foundation and Virgin Unite



Call him the $2-million man, by Tenille Bonoguore - 16th Feb 2008
(Credit: Globe and Mail)

South end of Bay Street. Late Wednesday afternoon. Sir Richard Branson has just leaped from his chair, dropped to the floor and is groping around under the long, long boardroom desk.

The dozen or so people in the room look to each other, confused giggles escaping through frozen smiles. A couple of heads awkwardly bend down, trying to see what's going on.

With a flash of burnished hair and a manic grin, Mr. Branson suddenly reappears. He holds aloft the foot of Toronto businessman Eric Sprott and starts polishing the shoe with his coat sleeve.

The room erupts with laughter as Mr. Branson, looking less rock star than sun-weathered African adventurer, gives exuberant thanks for the $2-million donation the Sprott Foundation has just given to Virgin Unite Canada. "That is really unbelievably generous," he says.

The donation matches the amount raised in November when Virgin Unite Canada had its grand, star-studded launch in Toronto.

Virgin Unite is the non-profit "entrepreneurial foundation" of the Virgin Group. Its overheads are paid by Mr. Branson and all donations funnelled directly to projects. The charity works with partners around the world on social and environmental issues. Its most heavily publicized project of late is Heaven's Angels, which sends health-care workers on motorbikes into remote sub-Saharan areas to deliver essential services.

Virgin Unite managing director Jean Oelwang says partner projects in Toronto dealing with youth and the environment are also being investigated, something Mr. Branson says helps maintain a philanthropic balance.

"There are places overseas that desperately need help, there are Canadians that also need help. It's a balance thing [between] charity at home and also charity overseas," he says. "Of course, we're very happy helping them spend their money."

The donation also earned Juliana Sprott, Mr. Sprott's daughter and the manager of the family's foundation, an impromptu invitation to Mr. Branson's game reserve, Ulusaba, while she is in Africa later this year to see Virgin Unite's work on the ground. (Lodge rooms at Ulusaba start at $550 per person per night.)

"We just built a little hospital just outside the game reserve, so you don't have to feel guilty," Mr. Branson grinned to her in an aside. "You can go and visit the hospital as well."

This is the fourth-largest donation made by the Sprott Foundation, which is also a substantial supporter of Carleton University, the Canadian Hunger Foundation and stem-cell research.

Mr. Sprott - whose stunning private art collection fills the Bay Street office and includes Inuit sculptures, works by the Group of Seven, Jean-Paul Riopelle and even van Gogh - said it was important that philanthropy had both front men like Mr. Branson and donors like himself.

"In this day and age, there's lots of people who've made a fair amount of money," Mr. Sprott said. "It's a matter of convincing those people they can make a difference today, instead of when someone is reading their will."



Branson's nonprofit Virgin Unite aims high
Charitable arm of Virgin companies flexes its muscle around the world -
19th March 2008
(Credit: NBC News)

Each month, Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This month, we profile British entrepreneur and adventurer Sir Richard Branson and his involvement with Virgin Unite, the charitable arm of his Virgin companies.

Question: What makes Virgin Unite unique among other not-for-profits?

Branson: It’s not necessarily unique, but what we try to do is use our entrepreneurial skills to look at social problems in the world and see whether we can set about attacking the problems, perhaps slightly differently than they’ve been tackled in the past. So for instance, in Africa we’ve seen lots of different organizations doing lots of good works, but there’s no coordination. So we’re using our entrepreneurial skills to set up a War Room which can coordinate all these efforts and look for best practices and try to alert people to new diseases and alert people to the best ways of tackling the problems that are out there at the moment. … We’ve also used our entrepreneurial skills to set up an organization called The Elders, headed up by Nelson Mandela. He’s appointed 12 global Elders who can look at conflicts and see whether there’s a better way of addressing them and use their moral authority to either try to prevent conflicts or stop conflicts. … And rather than just maybe handing out big checks we’re setting up things like the Branson School of Entrepreneurship in Jo-berg (Johannesburg) to try to teach young people from the townships how to become entrepreneurs and how they can build their own companies. And we’re investing we’re investing in Africa quite a lot of the profits from our other companies to try and create jobs … that can help get the continent back on its feet.

Q: What is your role with the organization?

A: Well Jean Oelwang runs the organization magnificently and I dive in there for tea (laughs). … I make speeches around the world and 100 percent of any money I make from my speeches goes to Virgin Unite. I fundraise and obviously work quite hard on Virgin companies to make more money so we can put more money into Virgin Unite. I take entrepreneurs to Africa to show them first hand of what’s going on there and then with new organizations that we’ve set up, like The Elders or the War Room, I’ll treat it like setting up a company, finding the best people to run them and then leaving them to get on and do the job.

Q: Is there a particular experience you’ve had while working with the organization that has been memorable above the rest or had a significant impact on you?

A: Well there was a waiter named Donald who worked for a game lodge we have in Africa and, unbeknown to myself, he had AIDS and he ended up I’m afraid dying of AIDS. He was 24 or 25 years old and he was a poet and he left some words which were very moving. He talked about AIDS not being a disease but a war. .. As a result I decided that nobody who ever worked at a Virgin company should die of AIDS…. So we set something up called the Naught-Percent Challenge and that was the naught percent of people that worked for Virgin companies would contract HIV, naught percent would ever get AIDS and naught percent of mothers who had HIV would pass on their HIV to their children. And then we set out to educate the 55,000 people that work for Virgin to make sure that we don’t have any more Donalds at Virgin, and we haven’t, to my knowledge, lost anybody since Donald died and we don’t plan to. We plan to use that as an example to other companies to try to do the same.

Q: Why should people support Virgin Unite?

A: Virgin Unite is involved in a whole lot of different areas. For instance, we have a program called Fistula, where we’re trying to (assist) the million young girls in Africa who often were forced to become pregnant at a horribly young age -- 9,10,11,12,13 years old – and then had a child and had their insides ripped to pieces and became incontinent. They’re often rejected by their family, living on the streets and they stink to high heavens. For $200 we can give them a small operation which means they can be back in society again and live a normal life. Natalie Imbruglia, who’s one of our Virgin Unite ambassadors, she’s trying to make sure any anyone with fistula is sorted out. We also have teams of people on motor bikes going out into the depths of Africa and trying to make sure that they cover the last mile and get medicine out to places where they don’t normally get medicine and medical help. But also back home in places like America, … there’s a big homeless problem amongst young people, so we’re trying to work hard to try to get people off the streets. One of our ambassadors is Jewel, the singer, who was once homeless on the streets of America for a year. She does a lot of work in that area.

Q: What did winning the U.N. Correspondents Association’s Citizen of the Year award mean to you and how does that connect with your work with Virgin Unite?

A: There’s always a figurehead in any organization and I’m the figurehead for Virgin Unite and for the Virgin companies. We’ve got fantastic people out there working really hard and trying to make a difference in the world, whether it’s the environment or in Africa and I suppose this award symbolizes all the work that they’ve been doing. I think they can all feel extremely proud of what they’ve managed to achieve in the last year, particularly I think with setting up The Elders as a global organization to try to prevent conflict.

Q: What does the future hold for Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Unite? What do you hope to accomplish?

A: Well look, we’d love to see a where people do not die of unnecessary causes and we’ll work hard towards trying to make peoples lives a little bit more bearable.

Interviewed by Giacinta Pace, NBC News



Mediaman does not represent Virgin Unite, however is a member of Virgin Unite, and has assisted in collaboration with ROC Presents

Mediaman had the privilege and pleasure of meeting and speaking with Richard Branson and Brett Godfrey at the 2008 Virgin Blue Hanger Ball. Richard Branson's Red Jet Foundation, related to Virgin Unite, helped raise approximately 1 million dollars.



Sir Richard Branson

The Elders

Social and Community Entrepreneurs