Interview: April 2011
While the term ‘big society’ did not exist when entrepreneur Paul Barry-Walsh, established Fredericks Foundation in 2001, he is convinced that the ethos did.
“Britain has always had a very active voluntary sector. But the State has gradually encroached on that, and I’m supportive of what this government is doing to regain the initiative.” The charity that Paul founded, following the sale of his IT company for £170 million, helps people who cannot access finance through the usual channels to set up or expand their own business.
“In fact, the place that Frederick’s Foundation occupies is somewhere between banks, government and more conventional grant-funding charities,” he says. “We’ve learned through experience that making loans can be much more effective than giving grants or even government hand-outs.”
“About 80 per cent of the loans that we make are fully repaid. Now, clearly, that’s not acceptable for a bank or other commercial lender. But just compare it the cost to the State of businesses going bust and people returning or remaining on the unemployment register.”
“I’m increasingly convinced that the only way to alleviate poverty is by enabling, facilitating and encouraging people to work and to become self-sufficient,” says Paul. “We need to have a safety net, but we also need to provide a spring-board, and that is where Frederick’s Foundation is so effective.
Even people with good credit history can find it impossible to get the capital they need to take their business ideas forward these days. IT enables individuals to compete in the market-place in a way that was virtually impossible 25 years ago. We should be in a golden age of self-employment and small businesses.”
Fredericks Foundation is always on the lookout for successful entrepreneurs who can act as mentors, project managers, advisors and lending panel volunteers.
“We treat people as individuals not just as a credit score. And we work hard to help them if they hit problems, with advice and support. That, of course, requires funding but also volunteers.”