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Dame Stephanie Shirley on the most surprising thing about being a philanthropist

Lara O'Reilly
Executive Producer

Dame Stephanie Shirley is a British technology pioneer who has donated vast sums of her wealth to charitable causes.

She is reported to have given away more than £65m ($81.3m) of the money she generated following the sale of her technology firm Freelance Programmers — which later became Xansa — a company she founded with just £6 in capital in 1962.

Speaking on Yahoo Finance UK’s Global Change Agents with Lianna Brinded show, she described her role now as a “venture philanthropist,” dedicating her time to projects focused on autism, women, and information technology.

Watch the full Dame Stephanie Shirley Global Change Agents interview

“I think of projects, I set them up, I get them to a sustainable level, and then I step back,” she said. “I enjoy my philanthropy, it’s very like business except that the metrics are social metrics rather than the bottom line.”

“It was a sheer pleasure”

Dame Stephanie, who arrived to the UK in 1939 as an unaccompanied child Kindertransport refugee, said she decided early on to make her life a “life that was worth saving.”

“I think even if I hadn’t been a refugee, I hope I would always have been a liberal because it seems to me that the world is getting more and more diverse — the rich get richer and the poor get poorer,” she said. “Once you have wealth of your own, it became a driving force to spread that around a bit.”

Dame Stephanie Shirley. Photo: Supplied by Dame Stephanie Shirley

The most surprising thing about being a philanthropist for Dame Stephanie is how pleasant an experience it has been, she said.

“I have so much fun, I could not imagine a lifestyle which is more amenable to how I want to spend my time and that was really a surprise,” she said. “It wasn’t ... a duty, but it was a sheer pleasure.”

Global Change Agents with Lianna Brinded explores the stories of some of the most inspirational women across business, tech, and academia. Catch up on all the latest episodes here.