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  1. Impact Philanthropy
August 17, 2011

John Studzinski of the Genesis Foundation on his philanthropy at the Royal Court Theatre

By Spear's


Zain Alatas speaks to John Studzinski about human dignity and Elyse Dodgson of the Royal Court Theatre about bringing the world’s words to Sloane Square

My chosen causes all revolve around my interest in human dignity and self-esteem, representing the rights of the marginalised — be it the homeless, with whom I have done a lot of work over the past 40 years, or in human rights, or with Genesis, which is about nurturing young artists. If I am unsure of whether or not to support something, I simply ask myself, ‘How does this relate to human dignity?’

Through working with the homeless I have found that helping one person at a time is a powerful thing to do. Once you have reinstated one person’s self-confidence, that person then acts as a catalyst with respect to others — there is a domino effect. I have also learned so much from the homeless about myself, about the planet and about the human condition. People often do not realise that so much of philanthropy is a quid pro quo and one receives so much in return.

I do not believe in chequebook philanthropy: one has to be active; either give your time and get involved, or create your own project with an existing institution. So many people think that philanthropy is about financial contribution, but it is about so much more. It is about purpose and strategy, passion, time given, introductions, reaching out to your network and bringing people in. It is about advocacy — taking a position on something and seeing it through.

I have always been motivated to find leaders, people who are passionate and sometimes single-minded, and people who are visionary in their whole approach to their cause. One of the reasons we created the Genesis Foundation was because we recognised that it is individuals at institutions that make differences, not the institutions themselves. I believe that the bigger the institution, the less likely it is that your charity or role has an impact. By the same token, foundations have to be tightly guided and led by the founder. I like to think of it as ‘stealth philanthropy’, which means having a focused, front-foot strategy.

I became aware of Elyse’s international programme at the Royal Court fifteen years ago. She was such a visionary and passionate, hard worker that it was very easy for me to decide to support her. Now there are layers of young playwrights all over the world who have been nurtured by the programme, and many have gone on to win prizes.

John Studzinski and Elyse Dodgson


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In 1989 I started our first international summer school at the Royal Court Theatre. We wanted to develop work with international writers in a similar way to our work with young British writers. When Stephen Daldry became the artistic director of the Royal Court in 1992, he had a great vision for international work — he saw the programme and decided that it must become the platform for all the international work that we do.

John Studzinski first got involved in 1997, just as the work was becoming very interesting. We had reached a point where we wanted to stage our international work, and John supported our first international season.

In that first season we presented work from France, Germany and Spain, and the theatre was empty. No one was interested and we resorted  to inviting people in free of charge. But John believed in it before anybody else, and even though the audiences were not there it did not stop him seeing the idea through. Now you can’t even do a reading of an international play without it being booked out.

I think the beauty of John’s involvement is that it really is the best kind. He is always engaged, interested and has an open dialogue with us, always tells us what he thinks of the work. We have borrowed John’s philosophy in a way. This is a programme where we work with so many different countries and cultures and it succeeds because of the personal relationships.

The Royal Court is now known for its work with writers all over the world, and we have taken this journey with great energy and commitment, always inspired by John. I can say categorically that this programme would not exist without him. There is no subsidy for this kind of work. It just never would have flourished without him.  

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