x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Celebrity charity comes to Dubai

An accomplished British philanthropist hopes to raise money for impoverished children and environmental causes around the world.

A local socialite, Sonal Vara-Gross, is helping organise the upcoming sale of charity items.
A local socialite, Sonal Vara-Gross, is helping organise the upcoming sale of charity items.
DUBAI // She counts among her friends the actors Josh Hartnett and Sir Ben Kingsley, so collecting one-off, celebrity-inspired artworks to auction seemed like a good way for this British philanthropist to raise money in the UAE, a country that appreciates the value of exclusivity.
Charlotte di Vita is the founder of the 21st Century Leaders Foundation and its Whatever it Takes campaign, which has enlisted the support of Nobel laureates, business leaders, artists and performers from around the world to address child poverty, the environment, health, education and other issues. Most recently, she has planned the campaign's Fashion for Charity sale, an event being held today and tomorrow at Al Manhal Clubhouse on the Palm Jumeirah to raise money for the causes and being hosted by the local socialite Sonal Vara-Gross. Ms di Vita is travelling on a fund-raising mission.
Ms di Vita, who has been visiting Dubai for several years and hopes to move to the city permanently, said she would put between 80 and 100 of her own possessions up for sale. They include T-shirts, mugs, plates, watches, wall clocks and bags, each featuring personal designs - or "symbols of hope" - that were created in 30 minutes by the actress Penelope Cruz, the singer David Bowie and members of the rock band Coldplay. Prices start at Dh150 (US$40).
The event will be followed by an online auction on eBay and what Ms di Vita promises will be a larger, more public sale next month. "This first Dubai-based event was only ever designed to be small and to test the market," she said. "And then there is another planned for Valentine's to make a greater impact with a great deal more stock." The smaller sales are meant to introduce the products to the country and assess which one will sell well in the UAE, she said.
Whatever It Takes has raised Dh11 million (US$3m) since it was launched five years ago. To get the Fashion for Charity concept rolling, Ms di Vita and her team sent out 22,000 requests to the rich and famous around the world. They received 250 replies, including from the Hollywood actors George Clooney and Minnie Driver. Since then, the tycoon Sir Richard Branson, the fashion designers Giorgio Armani and Donna Karan, and the actress Nicole Kidman have also all lent their support, in part due to appeals by the philanthropist Bob Geldof.
"I am very lucky," Ms di Vita said. "Over the years I have made some wonderful friends such as Bob and Josh, who make introductions for me, which is the best way to make approaches." All of the products for Whatever It Takes are sustainably made, and the workplaces are ethically managed, she added, to create appropriate jobs in poor communities. As a founder of Trade plus Aid, designed to raise and diversify local incomes in developing countries, she said: "It's unrealistic to expect people to stop consuming. What we need to do is to consume less and purchase wisely, recycle more, appreciate what we have, even if it just means doing something as simple as purchasing reusable grocery bags that eradicates the need for plastic ones. It's important to take small steps of conscious action each day."
Ms di Vita hopes this weekend's sale will be the first in a number of projects in the UAE. "We are looking for a franchise partner in the GCC, as I'd like to set up concept stores," she said. Ms di Vita, 43, began charity work in her 20s when she wrote to Prince Charles asking him to help fight the destruction of the rainforests. She received a reply and from there went on to organise a range of events, providing support to more than 50 charities including the UNHCR, Oxfam and Comic Relief.
In 1988, not long after graduating from Edinburgh University, she raised US$45,000 (Dh165,000) for environmental research and development projects from private sponsors in the US. Two years later, she took on the role of co-ordinator of the first Anglo-Brazilian Conference on the Environment, held in Brazil. It was there that her work with Prince Charles paid off as he agreed to patronise the event.
Following its success, she secured a donation of more than $1.2m from the British private sector for Pro-Natura International, a non-profit Brazilian-based Rainforest Preservation organisation. Since then, she has travelled the world working on projects including helping to revive a 17th-century enamelling technique in China. In October 1998, she was honoured by Queen Elizabeth for her work with Trade plus Aid, an organisation promoting ethical trading with projects in countries including Mongolia and Afghanistan.
This weekend's auction will continue on eBay until Tuesday. For more information, visit www.whateverittakes.org mswan@thenational.ae