Speaker: Mike Dickson

Exercising Our Generosity Gene

Mike Dickson encourages people to be generous, and guides them so that their giving is as fulfilling and effective as possible.  He is the Founder of Rainmaker Foundation, a collaborative charity launched in the United Kingdom in January 2012.  The Foundation's aims are to “inspire generosity” and “to create a world where what matters most is what we do for others.”  The Foundation connects philanthropists and change-makers (“rainmakers”) to inspirational causes in the UK and globally.  Rainmakers use their collective resources, funds, contacts and expertise to help charities and drive greater social impact.  Rainmaker also advises companies on developing effective partnerships with charities.

Mike’s own generous gene was kick-started more than 25 years ago, when he was challenged to run the London Marathon, and accepted the challenge.  Laughing about the “ridiculous” and “tragic” nature of the quest, Mike recalled:  “By the time we [my challenger and I] got to the start line of the London marathon, we'd both run a maximum of six miles.” But he found the stamina to complete the 26.2 mile race because a few weeks earlier, a limited-mobility child with cerebral palsy had entered his store in Covent Garden with a motorized wheelchair – leading him to the thought that “if we're going to go 26 miles and try and get around we should try and do it for a purpose.  We should try and give mobility for a child who can't move.”  Two weeks before the race, he visited a girl in her home who needed a wheelchair and was profoundly moved by the visit.  So he ran the race to raise money for a powered wheelchair for the girl, which he accomplished.

He later recalled:  “In simple terms, we did something mildly ridiculous – we ran 26.2 miles to give mobility to a disabled child who couldn’t move.  And it had a profound effect on the young girl who could move around and go to school and go to shops and move around her own house, but it had even a more profound impact on me.  I decided to establish a charity to allow disabled children to whizz about.” 

After the race, Mike co-founded the successful children’s charity Whizz-Kidz, which provides mobility equipment for disabled children. Whizz-Kidz is now the largest UK supplier of pediatric mobility aids outside the British National Health System (NHS), and has raised over £100 million to provide equipment for more than 20,000 children and young people.

But then Mike noticed something more, beyond the external measures:  “I began to notice the impact that giving had on the people who gave,” Mike said.  “The people who received were very grateful.  But the people who ran marathons to give were all profoundly moved.  That was when I first realized the power of generosity.  The more you give out, the more you get back.”

So he began to write about the power of generosity to create purpose and meaning in people’s lives – generosity of time as well as of financial resources.  He wrote a thought leadership book on generosity that was launched at TED Global to inspire a global movement to encourage generosity.  His more recent book on the topic, Our Generous Gene, was published in late 2015 and is a response to the wish to carry his journey further.  

The book in turn has spawned a broader movement led by Mike:  “The latest trends, thinking and research confirm that – amazing though it sounds – we can and are rewiring our brains, literally, to take charge of our own evolution. Unlike Darwin feared, the first human instinct is to nurture and care for each other.  Although seriously battered by self-centred cultures, generosity and kindness are things we can learn and teach our children.  A win/win that also makes us happier and more fulfilled. . . .  [We can] move from a culture where ‘having’ matters most to one that values ‘being’; from a society where a few profit at the expense of many to a place of greater interdependence.  The underlying message is that we have a choice.  Everyone can live a healthier and happier life if they choose and it’s OK to start small, because the ripple effect is amazing.  Action is all it takes.”

Mike has given many talks, including two at TedX events, on What is Enough and Success to Significance.

Mike is married with two children and lives in West London. He has run six marathons, led several treks and completed a 100 mile road race.

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