Iraj Ispahani, 51, is a director of the 192-year-old Bangladesh-based family business MM Ispahani. He is a trustee of Shakespeare’s Globe, on the management committee at Standard Chartered’s Seeing is Believing initiative and supports Ispahani Islamia Eye Hospital which treats 350,000 patients a year.
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What was the first charity you remember supporting?
As a child in Bangladesh, I grew up in a privileged family and in an environment where wealth and poverty existed side by side. I was never conscious of a particular charity; more of an approach and a sense of duty in terms of putting something back into the community in which we lived.
When and why did your family set up an eye hospital?
The eye hospital was established in 1960 as a dispensary, because there was nothing of the kind in the country then. It’s an example of how philanthropy, if it’s focused, can be a catalyst and really make a difference.
Which do you view as being more important: donating money or time to a cause?
Both are important. Money makes a difference but increasingly the charitable sector needs more commercial skills, which can and should come in from [people in] the business world.
Do you feel that the wealthy have a moral duty to give to good causes?
Absolutely, unequivocally, yes. As John Donne said, “No man is an island”. I wouldn’t encourage isolationist thinking. We have a moral obligation to help the communities in which we live, wherever they are.
What first attracted you to the Globe Theatre and why do you think it has been so successful?
What attracted me to it was that I absolutely believe that Shakespeare wasn’t the preserve of the English. He was a global citizen. I thought that the Globe, an educational charity, supported by many people from beyond these shores, would become a place of bridge-building and communication for the international community, through Shakespeare.
Is there anything you would like to change about the way we give to charity?
The government should give serious consideration to [more] tax relief on charitable donations, particularly with the current economic circumstances. It is also important to have inspirational people lead charitable endeavours, like Sam Wanamaker [founder of the Globe, who died in 1993]. People are still inspired by his vision for the Globe – which is evolving with the indoor Jacobean theatre [being built] on the site, and due to open in 2013.
What do you get out of your giving?
For me, the great extent of neediness, its scale, has always been important. Restoring the sight of a child who has cataracts with a £75 operation is something I find hugely meaningful.