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A Word with Jonathan Bayliss

Posted 04 June 2021 in EMpower News   |   Share

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Jonathan Bayliss of Citadel was a founding member of EMpower UK, subsequent Board Chair, and is currently Board Director. Jonathan recently spoke with Cynthia Steele, EMpower’s President and CEO, about witnessing the impact of EMpower’s work firsthand.


You were a co-founder of EMpower UK back in 2008. I’m curious about what attracted you to EMpower’s model?

I first came into contact with EMpower because I was a part of the emerging markets finance community and several people had introduced me to EMpower. I would say four things really excited me about EMpower. First, I strongly identified with EMpower’s mission to support young people in emerging markets countries. Second, the underwriting model which provides stability and an engaged board. Because the underwriters are so financially committed, they are also committed to helping to ensure good governance and strong engagement. Third, EMpower was closely associated with the emerging markets finance community, a community that I felt part of. Finally, EMpower’s global reach matches the global reach of the emerging markets finance [community] while the federation of local entities allow for local engagement, local ownership, and local governance. The EMpower structure has the benefits both of being global and of being local.

All those are really compelling reasons and I’m glad to know that so many of them still hold true. In 2020 we turned 20, which is quite amazing, and you were such a big part of this in your role as UK board chair for a number of years. What strikes you about EMpower’s evolution?

I’ve been positively surprised by how generous EMpower supporters are, even during tough times. And I’ve been surprised by the way EMpower has managed to grow, in its
grantmaking and in its evolution into providing thought leadership and technical assistance. And I continue to be impressed by the quality, professionalism, and deep knowledge of the EMpower team.

Zooming out a little bit, what influences your philanthropic choices? I’m interested to know how you think philanthropy has evolved through your time
with EMpower.

There hasn’t been a big change in my view of philanthropy. When I first engaged with EMpower I felt that young people and helping to develop young people was where I wanted to focus my philanthropic attention. I’ve been lucky to see the impact that EMpower and grantee partners have on the lives of young people, and on their local communities. And seeing this impact has just strengthened my beliefs that that is where I want to focus my philanthropic efforts.

You have visited grantee partners in South Africa and in Ghana. What have you learned about being a local nonprofit organisation working in high poverty settings?

Going to see these grantee partners operating in very tough environments—where there is typically a lot of poverty, often quite a lot of conflict—I’ve been surprised at the level of sophistication. They really understand all the issues, they have got really good solutions, and they really understand how to deliver those solutions. There’s quite a contrast between, on the one hand, the fairly undeveloped environment outside their offices and, on the other hand, the professionalism and sophistication of the staff and programmes within their offices.

How about with your interactions with young people on these visits, and what you have learnt. Anything that strikes you?

A lot of these organisations are fulfilling a desire for young people to learn. And when they have the opportunity to learn, they are unbelievably grateful and are keen to pay back themselves. Ikamva Youth is a really good example where the work that they have done in the classroom has gone on to spawn reading clubs. We see a virtuous circle of programme graduates returning to volunteer as programme leaders and so growing capacity to expand coverage to more young people. Such a high level of ongoing engagement from programme graduates is testament to the value of the programmes.

Paying it forward is so rewarding to see. You have committed so much time, energy, and resources to EMpower—what makes you proud or inspires you about EMpower?

I’m inspired by the dedication, the passion, and the quality of the staff. I’m inspired by the engagement and generosity of the Boards. But most importantly, I’m inspired by the impact that EMpower is having and the fact that EMpower has developed and grown from what was purely a grantmaker into an organisation that is providing thought
leadership to the global grantmaking community and giving valuable technical assistance to grantee partners. EMpower is recognised by some of the world’s biggest
foundations and funders for its specialised expertise and its abilities to lead programmes for girl’s empowerment, and for STEM. EMpower is now having significant impact beyond just the grantmaking and changing attitudes that in a way, when I first got involved in EMpower, we could only dream of.

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