The university’s “Dear World, Yours Cambridge” campaign has been developed to raise donations to the world’s most prestigious university

For 800 years, the brightest minds have gone to Cambridge to receive one of the best educations the world can offer. And, since 2015, Cambridge has pledged to give the world something back via a £2 billion fundraising campaign – called Dear World, Yours Cambridge – that will pay for the sort of research, posts and facilities that help shape a brighter future for everybody. The money raised has already supported a huge variety of causes across the world in fields as diverse as medical research, engineering, economics, history and theology. But Cambridge’s commitment to philanthropy is focused on a determination to make a difference, and this doesn’t just mean new inventions and discoveries. It also means finding the funds to support students who could not otherwise afford to study at Cambridge, or in finding ways to assist academic research in the poorest parts of Africa.

When the campaign was launched, the university vice-chancellor Professor Leszek Borysiewicz was quick to underline the importance of philanthropy to Cambridge, and especially the way philanthropy provides Cambridge with a vital sense of independence, from which springs confidence and innovation.

“Philanthropy is vital to the future of Cambridge,” he said. “It underpins our ambition by allowing us the space to innovate, free from the constraints of political and economic change. In addition, I want to see Cambridge rise to the world’s challenges in energy, food, healthcare, education, and inequality. Philanthropy is uniquely placed to enable the new ways of working and partnerships with NGOs and industry that can see us make a powerful contribution in these critical areas.”

The Dear World campaign is rooted in Cambridge’s dedication to the principles of research and innovation as well as the university’s conviction that it is an international rather than simply national institution. Both these strands form a core part of Cambridge’s history and present identity. It was Cambridge scholars who identified the building blocks of life and uncovered the origins of the universe. From Cambridge came world-changing inventions such as the reflecting telescope, the computer and the jet engine. The message is clear – when Cambridge creates, everybody benefits.


Financial realities

The principle behind the fundraising campaign is equally simple: if Cambridge is to continue to produce the Newtons, Darwins, Wordsworths and Coleridges of the 21st century, it needs financial support. That support can then be used to educate, research, understand and ultimately to produce the next swathe of groundbreaking inventions, which will tackle the biggest issues facing humanity today, from cancer and depression to climate change and ageing populations. Since the campaign was launched, there have already been more than 47,000 donors who have contributed to the campaign from the across the world. Prominent benefactors include the inventor Sir James Dyson, who is supporting the next generation of engineers, and Bill and Weslie Janeway, who made a gift to economics research that was designed to support the development of African research capacity in areas such as infectious disease and governance and human rights.

When the campaign passed the £1 billion mark thanks to an £85 million donation from the estate of Ray Dolby to support the Cavendish Laboratory for physics research – the largest philanthropic gift ever made to UK science – Dr Mohamed El-Erian (Queens’ 1977), co-chair of the campaign, said: “We are extremely grateful to all those who have contributed so generously to this campaign. As an alumnus of Cambridge I am privileged and honoured to be part of the work that is having such a profound impact.”

Through philanthropy, benefactors can directly target those areas they consider most important – whether that’s preventing disease, supporting poorer students, discovering new sources of energy, conserving museum and gallery collections, or closing the research gap between Africa and the rest of the world. Among other donations, Bill and Weslie Janeway fund the Janeway Professorship Of Financial Economics, which will combine the teaching and research of finance and economics, contributing to our understanding of the increasingly connected and inter-connected financial economy.

Bill Janeway has explained that the Janeways support Cambridge for a variety of reasons: the fact the university’s work has a demonstrable impact on the world, because it allows them to support brilliant scholars and also through a desire to give something back to the institution that shaped their own lives. And by making a donation in a specified discipline, the Janeways are able to ensure the combined focus of Cambridge’s finest minds remains concentrated on an area that might otherwise get neglected or overlooked.


Follow the lead

Philanthropy also begets philanthropy. So the Department of Engineering’s Dyson Centre For Engineering Design, which was named after benefactor Sir James Dyson, was recently refitted with state-of-the-art equipment thanks to further gifts from the Burrell Family Charitable Trust. The Dyson Centre allows students to work outside their classroom using a variety of equipment from 3D printers to traditional hand tools. It is also a great site to take local schoolchildren to show them what Cambridge can offer, thus inspiring future generations.

Several donations focus on creating studentships and bursaries for financially disadvantaged undergraduate students to ensure people from all backgrounds can benefit from the unique experience Cambridge has to offer. Since the campaign was launched, 81 postdoctoral fellowships and 134 postgraduate studentships have been funded through philanthropy and these scholars will drive cutting-edge research in fields from politics to engineering and chemistry to sociology. Students are the key to Cambridge’s continued success, and they also may be able to provide the answers to the world’s problems in education, security, food supply, climate change, health and energy supply.

In recent years, Cambridge graduate students have discovered four-stranded DNA in humans, developed a means to stop HIV transmission through breast milk, built the first computer model of blood cell development, improved low cost housing in South America and found ways to make nuclear power safer and sustainable. That’s why Sir James Dyson agreed to donate funds to support engineering PhDs. “Graduate students are incredibly important,” he says. “Their advanced technical ability combined with deep specialist knowledge makes them indispensable.”

The necessity of supporting the under-privileged in particular is a theme that’s continued by Sir Harvey McGrath (St Catharine’s 1971), co-chair of the Dear World campaign. “As a result of the support shown by so many alumni, we are able to attract, inspire and support the brightest in the world, irrespective of their background or financial capacity,” he says. “We must continue to do so, and I am delighted to be working as co-chair to ensure that students who would not otherwise be able to come to Cambridge have the financial support they need, now and in years to come.”


Targeted donations

Targeted donations can also correct other imbalances in the student population, such as the lack of female participation in male-dominated subjects such as science, medicine, maths, technology and engineering. Following a gift from alumnus Nick Corfield (St John’s 1978), the Faculty of Mathematics has created the Corfield Lectureships and Fellowship in Mathematics for the all-women Murray Edwards College. For Corfield, this was a direct response to his experiences at St John’s when he noted the gender imbalance “which clearly did not reflect the distribution of mathematical talent in the general population”.

It’s this sort of donation that allows Cambridge to go that one step further in realising the university’s determination to create an environment that will change the world. A gift of £90,000 from The Parasol Foundation Trust will create two scholarships for outstanding graduate students to undertake studies in science, technology, engineering or maths, and is specifically targeted at those who would not otherwise be able to afford postgraduate study.

Philanthropy also benefits staff, as the ability to attract world-class staff is essential if the university is to fulfil its potential for global impact. One example of how this is done also demonstrates the way philanthropy can bring a variety of partners together as they pursue a common goal. The Dennis and Mireille Gillings Global Public Health Fellowships are a partnership between the Gillings, Cambridge University and the Institut Pasteur – a private non-profit foundation that works to prevent and treat disease. The two three-year post-doctoral fellowships include one specialising in infectious disease and the other in neurology, with the medics dividing their team between the Cambridge, Paris, Africa and China. The intention is to produce future public health leaders who are talented biomedical researchers but also have financial acumen and business skills. It’s precisely this sort of world-encompassing, cutting-edge research that Cambridge is so keen to support.


The African connection

Cambridge is committed to supporting opportunities elsewhere in the world. Africa is home to 12 per cent of the world’s population but researchers produce less than 1 per cent of the world’s published academic research, due to inadequate infrastructure and a lack of training support. Thanks to philanthropic support from the Alborada Trust Research Fund, the Carnegie Corporation and the AG Leventis Foundation, African researchers are able to visit Cambridge to access the university’s expertise and allow them to explore multidisciplinary collaboration. This is already bearing fruit. Dr Annettee Nakimuli, a lecturer in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of Makerere University in Uganda, is researching maternal disease and mortality under the mentorship of Professor Ashley Moffett from the Department of Pathology.

“Pre-eclampsia is a life-threatening condition which effects about one in ten people in Africa, more in Kampala’s Mulaga, where I practise as a clinician. My research to understand the pathogenesis of pre-eclampsia can save the lives of these expectant mothers and thousands of others across the globe. On visits to Cambridge I learnt the practical techniques I needed to be able to conduct high-quality research in Uganda.” Dr Moffett also benefited from the exchange, reporting “it was an enlightening experience to be able to work in Cambridge and in Africa with impressive medial scientists like Annettee, who see first-hand the severity of the pre-eclampsia problems in Africa.”

In Ghana, Dr Abu Yaya works with Dr Kevin Knowles in the Department of Materials, Science and Metallurgy to deliver safe and affordable electricity to remote parts of Ghana. He is looking to find ways to develop electro-porcelain composites from local raw materials, water and a furnace. “Electro-porcelain protects humans from electrocution by insulating electric cables in homes, on railways and in telecoms systems,” says Dr Yaya. “Ghana currently exports all its electro-porcelain at great expense.” He intends to find a cheaper home-grown solution that could benefit poor populations.

Professor David Dunne is director of the Cambridge-Africa Programme, which partly depends on philanthropic support. He explains how a gift of £50,000 will support three fellows on a Collaborative Visiting Fellowship at the Centre for African Studies to come to Cambridge for six months and there are also opportunities to support individual projects such as citizen-led governance and human rights, to maternal health and promoting entrepreneurship. “We have a proven model that can take the best of Cambridge to Africa and bring the best of Africa to Cambridge,” says Dr Dunne. “We now want to expand the programme, which is at full capacity, to include more African PhD and Post-doctoral Fellows, in more African institutions and countries, and across a wider range of priority areas. Their discoveries can impact on the lives of millions of people, in Africa and globally.”

Another project that is bringing together Cambridge and Africa is the Philomathia Africa Programme in the Department of Politics and International Studies. This is a programme launched jointly by the University, Trinity Hall and the Philomathia Foundation that will create new research and teaching collaborations with African universities, scholars and students in the social sciences. One aspect of the programme will be a focus on climate justice through a project led by Dr Adam Branch from the Centre of African Studies. One reason the Philomathia Foundation gave to explain its decision to expand the partnership was its belief in the “global leadership of the university”.

The potential contained with the classrooms of Cambridge’s colleges is extraordinary. There is the ability here to achieve almost anything, whether that’s eradicating malaria, finding ways to feed the world, preserving cultural heritage or treating mental illness. It’s thanks to the support of philanthropists that the university is able continue in its endeavour to change the world and make our lives happier, longer and healthier.