Newsmaker: Making no apologies

Shaks Ghosh will lead the the Private Equity Foundation, a new grant-making charity funded by the private equity industry.

New PEF chief executive Shaks Ghosh. Photograph: Newscast
New PEF chief executive Shaks Ghosh. Photograph: Newscast

On the face of it, Shaks Ghosh has moved from a homelessness charity to a homeless one. As chief executive of Crisis for nine years, she presided over 75 staff and oversaw the shift from soup and blankets provider to dynamic campaigner for social justice. As chief executive - and sole employee - of the Private Equity Foundation for just nine days so far, she doesn't yet have a phone number, let alone an office.

What she does have is £5m of funding - skimmed from the private equity industry - and a licence to develop the 'turbo-charged' version of venture philanthropy that her employer aims to pioneer. Some would be daunted by the critics, who have argued that the foundation is little more than a public relations stunt for a wealth-sodden industry. But Ghosh is irrepressibly excited by the charity's potential to fulfil its aim of offering solutions to social exclusion.

"I'm not doing this to be an apologist for the private equity world," she says. "I wouldn't work here if I hadn't been convinced that these guys are in it for the best possible reasons. They want to create social change."

But what about private equity buyouts, their resulting job cuts and the potential damage to the very families the foundation is trying to help? "Whatever you do, whether you're government, private or public sector, your actions have unintended consequences," she says. "I don't know what the consequences are of private equity - but I know that we live in a capitalist world and they are pretty damn good capitalists."

Working with damn good capitalists may seem a far cry from championing the rights of homeless people at Crisis, but Ghosh insists this is an organic career progression. "At Crisis, we started to think big about creating normal, healthy, vibrant, inclusive communities," she says. "And this is one step upstream from that, which is looking at social exclusion and thinking 'if there is a problem to solve, what is the best way to solve it?'"

She is also keen to stress that her new role will be no less campaign- oriented than her front-line work at Crisis. "This is going to be as much about campaigning and engaging with government and social policy as anything I've ever done," she says.

"It is about increasing the capacity of the third sector so it can rise to the challenge ahead of us. I'm hoping there will be some partnership projects that I can do with government."

The foundation has pledged its initial £5m to five groups, including the NSPCC and the Impetus Trust. It will soon announce European recipients.

Ghosh says the foundation's grants are appropriate only for charities that are considering organisational change because, in addition to funding, it will offer free support from the legal, accounting and finance firms associated with the private equity industry. Similarly, New Philanthropy Capital, which filters the foundation's grant applications, is its registered headquarters - as a result, the foundation exists in an almost virtual form.

Despite her enthusiasm, Ghosh concedes that the foundation's grants will not be right for all. "If people are worried about the money being tainted, they're going to worry even more about the support they get from all the professional services that we bring to the relationship."

Yet she believes private equity's filthy lucre is an untapped resource that could revolutionise the sector. She defers to Salvation Army founder William Booth, who believed money was washed clean of its dubious origins through being employed for charitable purposes. Repeating his famous quote, she says: "The problem with tainted money is t'aint enough of it."

Ghosh CV

2007: Chief executive, Private Equity Foundation
1997: Chief executive, Crisis
1993: Head of London region, National Housing Federation
1989: National development unit manager, Centrepoint
1986: Special projects officer, Community Housing Association
1981: Urban community worker, Leicester City Council

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