‘Transformative’ £7.5m alumni donation sees Durham University launch new entrepreneurship institute

Education | Employment & Skills | North East
Durham University Business School.
Durham University Business School.

A new dedicated facility for business and entrepreneurship will be opened at Durham University following a ‘transformative’ £7.5m donation from a former student.

Durham alumni Charles Wilson and his partner Dr Rowena Olegario’s financial contribution will be used to launch the Wilson Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship at Durham University Business School.

The Wilson Institute will provide entrepreneurs and leaders, especially in small and family businesses, with insightful and practical support to develop those businesses to full potential.

The Institute will have a specific focus on servicing business leaders and business ideas in the local region at every stage of development: supporting start-up, scale-up, and smart-up activities.

Professor Stuart Corbridge, Vice-Chancellor and Warden of Durham University, said: “This is an extraordinary and hugely welcome demonstration of support for the university’s mission from two very distinguished friends.

“Philanthropy is changing the game for students at Durham and this record donation will leave an indelible and enabling legacy for the benefit of generations to come.”

The donation – a record amount for Durham University – will be used to fund not only the institute, but also to launch the Durham Inspired – North East Scholarships programme for students coming from low-income backgrounds.

It will also provide an endowment for the university’s Institute of Hazard Risk and Resilience (IHRR) – a research Institute co-founded by Wilson in 2004 which supports research and practice in areas related to global natural disasters.

Charles Wilson said: “Rowena and I are delighted to be supporting Durham University and the Durham Inspired campaign.

“Durham is making an incredible difference to the North East, the UK, and within the wider world; we are pleased that our support will assist the university’s objectives in each of these areas.”

An endowment of £2m, including matching donations, will be used to inspire and support exceptional young minds from across the region to reach their full potential, regardless of financial means.

The scholarships programme will support 20 students each year from low-income backgrounds from the North East, enabling them to study while also pursuing vital leadership and development experiences.

Meanwhile, the donation towards the IHRR will increase the Institute’s ability to produce leading, front-line research which helps professionals around the world to protect, save, and recover thousands of vulnerable lives and communities every year.

The money will enable Durham University to promote, share, and network new research and best practices with industry leaders, policy makers, and practitioners working in areas related to natural hazards.

Professor Susan Hart, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Business, Durham University, said: “In establishing the Wilson Institute, we are seizing a unique opportunity to enrich the forward-thinking enterprise ecology in the region, stimulating business creation, scale-up activity, and beneficial economic development across the North East and beyond.”

The announcement has been welcomed by the area’s business community.

James Ramsbotham, Chief Executive of the North East England Chamber of Commerce, said: “Businesses in the region will welcome news of this development at Durham with open arms.

“I am positive that the Wilson Institute will provide the world with yet another window into the North East economy and provide North East business with a wide-open front door into this leading business school on our doorstep.”

The overall donation will have a transformative impact on the future of a vast number of low-income students who will now have additional financial support to attend the university, the research that the Institute for Hazard, Risk and Resilience is able to conduct and disseminate, and a huge impact on entrepreneurs and small businesses by launching the Wilson Institute.

Senior university figures said they were also delighted to recognise the contribution this gift will make towards its wider Durham Inspired campaign, which seeks to support the next generation of inspiration and leadership through Durham University.

The campaign is chaired by former Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Worldwide, Rob Senior, who said: “The Durham environment allows exceptional students and researchers to test drive their full potential in so many ways, but some need a little extra support to reach that potential.

“As one student put it recently, ‘we often have all of the fire, but not enough fuel’. This landmark donation is an inspiring response to those underlying needs and will help Durham to remain a truly world-class institution.”

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