Topsoe’s new charity programme is inspired by our founder’s concern for children, and goes hand-in-hand with our business and global presence.
One of the ﬁrst projects to be funded by Haldor Topsoe A/S in the area of charity began with a rather odd question. It happened some years ago at a board meeting of the Karnaphuli Fertilizer Company, an international joint venture in Bangladesh that Topsoe helped establish. Haldor Topsoe himself was well into his nineties at the time, but was still an active member of the Board of Directors. On this particular day, however, he was interested in more than fertilizer. Turning to fellow board member Dr. Touﬁq Ali, he asked: “Can’t you ﬁnd me some street children that I could help?” Haldor’s daughter Birgitte Øigaard, who today is a member of the Charity Committee at Haldor Topsoe A/S, tells the rest of the story: “I don’t think Dr. Ali really took my father seriously. But at the next board meeting, my father asked him again about the street children. He really meant it.”
A school for slum children
The result of that ﬁrst conversation with Dr. Ali culminated in October, 2013 with the opening of Utsho Village, a boarding school for children from the slums of Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital. In addition to 200 street children, the school can accommodate another 200 day students from the area around the school, which is located 40 km north of the capital. Utsho Village was funded by Haldor Topsoe A/S at a time when there was still no formal charity programme at the company. It is run by a local NGO, Utsho Bangladesh, which is chaired by Dr. Ali’s wife, Firdaus Ali. Haldor Topsøe laid the foundation stone for the school, but never saw its inauguration; ﬁve months before the school opened, Haldor Topsøe passed away.
The charity programme is born
Utsho Village is a part of a charity programme established and funded by Haldor Topsoe A/S. The company also contributes funding to several other projects, all in countries where Topsoe is actively engaged in business. The common feature in each of them is that they express the spirit of Haldor Topsøe and his wife Inger, both of whom were deeply concerned about the social problems in the many countries where the company operates.
“My father was particularly affected by the poverty he witnessed in Denmark in the 1930s and later during his work-related travels to places like India. And my mother was inﬂuenced both by her travels with my father and by a Quaker school that she attended for a year in England. “Both of my parents were very much focused on the plight of underprivileged children,” Birgitte Øigaard adds.
“That’s why one of the criteria for a Topsoe charity project is that it should relate in some way to education or to children in distress.”
Other project requirements
There are also a few other requirements that are embedded in the company programme. Among other things, charity donations may not be made to projects with a predominantly political or religious agenda, and all of the supported projects must be monitored to ensure that donations are used for their intended purpose. Most of the funding also has some kind of time limit. Moreover, the donation must also be linked geographically to Topsoe’s business territory. During Haldor Topsøe’s lifetime, he was very focused on where he could make a difference and give back to the societies where the company operates. Today the Charity Committee in Haldor Topsoe A/S supports this tradition by asking each local oﬃce in the company’s world-wide organization to provide ideas for new donations. The oﬃces can thus use their local knowledge to make the best possible suggestions.
One of Birgitte Øigaards hopes for the future is that charity endeavors can become sustainable over the long term. As an example of what she means, she recalls a successful project initiated many years ago with private funds from the Topsøe family – a school in Yaroslavl, Russia that is now run largely through donations from grateful former students. “I also hope that the continued growth of Haldor Topsoe A/S will be reﬂected in an expansion of the charity programme,” Birgitte Øigaard adds.
New projects can still be added
Topsoe funding for the establishment of Utsho Village was completed in mid-2014, but the Charity Committee continues to stay informed about the progress and needs of the project. Meanwhile, the Committee is also reviewing a number of other project applications. One of the latest additions to the company’s charity programme was initially meant as a surprise to celebrate Haldor Topsøe’s 100th birthday. “We wanted to ﬁnd something that would really make him happy,” his daughter relates. After a conversation with the head of Topsoe’s South African oﬃce, they found the perfect project in Kampala, Uganda: a home for street children run by a former soccer star who had spent his own childhood in the streets. Haldor Topsøe did not live quite long enough to see the results. But he would no doubt have been pleased to know that the home in Kampala is now an oﬃcial part of the charity programme at Haldor Topsoe A/S.
Topsoe charity contributions
Under its charity programme, Haldor Topsoe A/S is contributing to the following:
- A school project in Sunderbans, India; a central boarding school has been constructed, and work has begun on the ﬁrst of 10 non-formal schools in outlying villages
- A home for street children in Kampala, Uganda
- A charitable foundation for underprivileged children in the Tula region of Russia
- Improvements to two children’s homes in Argentina
- Construction of an IT lab at a school in Nepal
- An irrigation project at an agricultural college in South Africa
Most of the above projects take place in cooperation with local and foreign NGOs and/or donors. New projects are also being considered.