The Meghraj family has a long history of charitable giving and philanthropy, with a particular focus on Africa and India. Having worked with the family for over 25 years, Sailesh Navsaria looks at their experience from a philanthropic perspective and explains why Jersey is an ideal jurisdiction for philanthropic structures.

Philanthropy continues to evolve and become more professional in its approach. Families now apply some of the criteria used to assess the viability of an investment opportunity when considering charitable projects, the emphasis being on maximising impact and making a measurable difference. Often, support will not just be by way of funding but by providing expertise and access to a family’s wide network, friends and contacts.

The desire to give back continues to be driven by the family’s values and the vision of the original wealth creators. This may be codified by way of a family constitution, or by the family guiding their trustees, or providing direction by way of representation on the Council of the family’s charitable Foundation. The skill of the professionals supporting such philanthropic families is to efficiently coordinate the activity necessary to convert the family’s generosity into tangible action. This is where Jersey’s deep pool of talent adds value.

The Meghraj family’s approach

The Meghraj family, the sons of the late Meghji Pethraj Shah and their families, is a good example of a family that uses a Jersey Family Office. It is supported by a Jersey trust and corporate services provider and draws on the jurisdiction’s professional services infrastructure to coordinate the ownership of business interests, personal investments and modern philanthropic activity. Although the Meghraj family has strong Jersey connections, key family members live around the world and travel extensively, and with modern communications, Jersey needed to compete on merit. Jersey was selected because by ‘ticking all the boxes’, it provides a one-stop shop, a factor often towards the top of a wealthy family’s list of requirements as time is a critical resource.

“What is of particular interest to philanthropists is the flexibility of Jersey Trust and Foundation laws”

The Meghraj family supports a wide range of good causes. Much of its original commercial success derived from business activity in East Africa, and its roots are in India, so supporting these two regions is very close to family members’ hearts. The family’s approach to philanthropy is ‘hands-on’, with family members taking a keen interest in identifying and evaluating the projects they support and nurture, using their time, experience and connections to ensure the capital they provide is leveraged or has a multiplier effect to maximise its impact. Larger projects are set up on commercial lines, involving partnerships with local communities and local governments, with a key component being a suitable management framework existing to oversee the enduring success of the project. Typically the family will maintain strong links with local management. Examples include:

  • P. Shah Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, which is committed to providing accessible and affordable healthcare and is consistently ranked as one of the top hospitals in East Africa. Many of the victims of the Westgate tragedy in September 2013 were treated there.
  • P. Shah Medical College in Jamnagar, one of India’s most respected educational institutions through which 10,000 doctors have qualified over the years.
  • Promoting initiatives to provide practical business education to micro-entrepreneurs in India and Africa, with the belief that fostering entrepreneurship has a significant positive impact on whole communities.

Other projects share the same characteristics and vision: long term commitments, close to the hearts of the family, and where its support in its various forms makes a measurable difference.

Jersey for Philanthropy

Jersey’s advantages are well known. Its stability, credibility, legal and regulatory integrity, tax neutrality, flexibility, and a depth and breadth of expertise, regularly see the jurisdiction rated the top international finance centre in which to conduct private client business. What is also of particular interest to philanthropists is the flexibility of Jersey Trust and Foundation laws. The former provides for the creation of charitable trusts and non-charitable purpose trusts where the objective falls outside of the definition of pure charity, and the latter provides for foundations to be created with charitable, non-charitable or mixed objectives. This flexibility is important as generally families prefer to employ Trustees or establish a Family Office in a single jurisdiction to meet their philanthropic needs, in addition to other aspects of their business and personal wealth planning. Whatever the chosen vehicle, Jersey’s legal and regulatory framework is able to meet a family’s desire to keep their charitable activities private or, alternatively, if a Jersey Foundation is used, more visible to the extent to which information is included in the Foundation’s Charter, this being a document of public record.

As Sub-Saharan Africa develops and unlocks its potential, Jersey is well placed to build on its existing links with the continent. Leaving a lasting legacy through philanthropic activity will remain close to the hearts of many successful individuals… for they shall not pass this way again.

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