Reviewed by Paul Ramsbottom
It remains relatively rare for histories of foundations to be written. This is a shame. When (as with this book) they are well told, they tend to be colourful stories that shed light on shifts in philanthropy as well as the wider social, cultural and political context in which foundations exist.
This history of the Gatsby Foundation – the vehicle of David Sainsbury’s philanthropy – is therefore to be welcomed. Georgina Ferry is particularly sure-footed in describing the foundation’s undoubted influence on science research and policy (notably in the fields of plant science and neurology). Opening and concluding chapters which attempt to place Gatsby in a wider philanthropic context internationally will be of particular interest to readers of Alliance. If anything – and perhaps in keeping with David Sainsbury’s own modesty – the book downplays the pioneering nature of some of Gatsby’s activities, for example in its varied social investment models.
The book articulates common themes in David Sainsbury’s philanthropy which, although diverse, exhibits distinct characteristics across five decades. The foundation was established in the immediate aftermath of UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s memorable speech heralding the ‘white heat’ of the ‘scientific revolution’. And the application of science and technology to societal challenges – from farming to mental health – sits at the heart of Gatsby’s activities.