Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Mike Dickson Interview

On the eve of the Volunteer Reading Help reception at the House of Commons, we have one more interview for you at Books and Adventures.

Charities like VRH depend on the generosity of businesses and individuals giving their time to a good cause. Just a few hours each week can help a child who is struggling with reading to develop confidence and a love of books and stories – but when money is tight and our lives are so busy, it’s sometimes hard to imagine giving up our time for others.

Mike Dickson is the man with an answer to this dilemma. A founder of the children’s charity Whizz-Kidz, he is an incredible, energetic advocate of generosity and philanthropy in the UK and beyond. His first book, The More You Give, played an important part in shaping my corporate outreach work; this summer sees the release of Please Take One, “a call to lead a more generous life, to maximize our life not our income.”

Mike kindly took time out of a busy schedule to answer a few questions on the benefits of volunteering at the individual and corporate levels.

Why should individuals and organisations be thinking about giving at a time when we are all tightening our belts?
Well these are two separate questions.

Organisations, quite simply because employees, customers, and shareholders now expect a business to have a life outside of just making a profit, to be actively engaged in their communities and aware of their environmental footprint. Buying clothes made in India by children who should be at school, or mowing down rainforest to produce palm oil is no longer acceptable. Especially among young consumers.

Individuals should give their time – by being generous to their families, their friends, their communities and to their planet – for it is ours/ theirs.

The forthcoming cuts are going to have a staggering impact on our communities – so it is up to us to become engaged and involved where we live – by helping, caring, teaching – as John Kennedy said ‘Ask not what your country can do, ask what you can do for your country’

Two pleasant side effects of a more generous approach to life are that companies will become more intelligent and better places to work; and individuals will become happier through contributing to others – there is lots of research to prove this.

What are the benefits of volunteering one’s time as a way of giving?
It gives you a sense of purpose; introduces you to other lives and worlds; stops you whinging on about what an awful day / week / time you have had – it is very difficult to remain fixated on your own problems when helping others are less fortunate. And it actively helps to improve the community you live in and the charity you are volunteering for.

What advice could you give people looking to volunteer their time with a charity or other organisation?
Go local, or if you are helping an overseas cause look for an association – e.g. if you love India help an NGO there.

Think about what you are really interested in, even what makes you angry. Then focus on finding charities or NGOs that work in those areas. Research them online, ask friends about them. Ring the charities up and ask them what sort of help they need, go and meet them – this is well worth it – see if you like the work, get on with or are inspired by the people working in the charity and so on.

Don’t get waylaid by City folk banging on about leverage, and Return On Investment – most of it is hubris and harmful. I have heard of NGO’s asking about gender equality policies in Africa – in the good old days they would have been captured and boiled alive in pots!

Your new project is all about generosity. Can you tell us more?
The book is called Please Take One - one step into a more generous life. We have all been living in a daft way for the last 20 or 30 years in the ruthless drive to accumulate material goods, and been encouraged to become individuals, independent etc. And we are now in a mess.

Please Take One is a call to lead a more generous life, to maximize our life not our income. There are chapters on happiness, enough, poverty in the UK (truly shocking), global poverty (how to help the bottom billion), and about the threat to our environment which.

There are some great stories, quotes and facts and list of ‘steps’ – suggested actions to lead a more generous life.

Please Take One is being soft launched at Ted Global in Oxford in July when we will also be starting a global movement to encourage generosity. For people to record generous acts they have done or witnessed and ones have happened to them. All of course ‘on line’ through the web, Facebook, Twitter etc – I have even had to learn to tweet! I am hugely looking forward to reading about people’s actions.

As the Talmud says ‘to save one life is as if you have saved the world’.

You can find out more about Mike’s writings, his charitable activities and his work advising companies about their charitable giving at

The final interview in the ‘VRH Trilogy’ will be with Julie Nixon, Director of Services at Volunteer Reading Help.

After that, Books and Adventures will be heading down under to investigate Pacific mythology, Australian children’s fiction, and the magic of landscape...

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