Renu Mehta

Founder of Fortune Forum, a charity which aims to tackle the interdependent global issues of poverty, climate change and diseases, Renu Mehta used her extensive contacts to convene philanthropists, global leaders and celebrities to collectively make a difference.

Renu Mehta

Personal story

Renu Mehta is fortunate.  A wealthy heiress who headed up the design team at her family’s fashion house, she has enjoyed the life of a busy socialite and successful businesswoman.  Still, like many of her friends, she felt unfulfilled. “I felt guilty because my life was so easy, while so many others live facing a grim existence against disease and hunger,” said Mehta. 

She says her inspirations are other women philanthropists, such as Melinda Gates, Sigrid Rausing and Queen Rania. Mehta explained: “They don’t have to be involved in philanthropy; it is an active choice.  They have chosen to dedicate themselves to this work, and are giving their time and passion and getting personally involved.” 

Recognising her impressive Rolodex as an important asset, Mehta sought to make a difference through harnessing her network.  “I wanted to do more than support good causes myself – I wanted to help create a culture of giving in the UK.”

The result was the Fortune Forum, a charity which aims to tackle the interdependent global issues of poverty, climate change and diseases – including HIV/Aids, malaria and cancer. The Forum convenes philanthropists, global leaders, celebrity activists, influential entrepreneurs and media moguls to collectively make a difference.  Mehta commented: “Fortune Forum is a heady mix of substance and  glamour.”

Launched in 2006, the Forum hosted its inaugural annual Summit in September that year. With a guest list that most charities could only dream of, the gala event featured former US President Bill Clinton as the keynote speaker and raised over £1m for charities.  “Its appeal was successful beyond our expectations,” said Mehta. “Our primary objective was to raise awareness, and the media coverage was tremendous in supporting us.”

"I wanted to do more than support good causes myself – I wanted to help create a culture of giving in the UK.”

The 2007 Summit raised even more money for charities.  Mehta realised that not everyone was comfortable giving publicly, and so last year participants were able to make donations privately to the charities presenting.  She said: “Our focus is on showing people the joy of giving, and creating a welcoming environment; and so we need to understand the different motivations of our members.”  She continued: “It is important for donors to understand and tap into their own personal motives for giving.  This understanding is necessary so that individuals can decide where and how to give that is best for them.  It requires a lot of honesty.  But in the end motivations don’t necessarily matter as long as people engage positively.”

Whilst the glitzy dinners attract most of the media attention, the hard work is done behind the scenes, and throughout the entire year.  The Forum also hosts a series of focused, strategic dinners that bring together people who can influence and effect change. 

One of these groups is the International Clean Energy Circle (ICE Circle), launched at the 2007 Summit.  ICE Circle comprises two groups: an Innovation circle, which explores new technologies, and a Policy circle, which seeks to influence governments. “To achieve scale and meaningful change, we must look at markets and influence policy,” Mehta said. “The £1m raised at the first Summit is a pittance compared to the challenges the world is facing: a few million pounds can save a few thousand lives, but through policy we can save millions.  For instance, I am currently looking at tax reform, where I am working on creating a specific fiscal mechanism whereby the ‘super-rich’ and the government can work together to divert huge flows of funding into the international development arena.”

The scale of the problem is immense, and the Forum is taking a holistic approach. Through its charity partners, which include WaterAid, British Red Cross, as well as grassroots initiatives, the Forum is focusing on developing infrastructure, health and education in developing countries.  “The poor must become productive on their own account, to be self-sufficient,” commented Mehta.  “Fortune Forum brings money, time and our network to help them ultimately achieve self-sufficiency.”

Yet Mehta is undaunted, and says she has never enjoyed anything as much as the Forum.  “But I am not complacent – there is still so much to be done,” she says.  “I am still learning, and the Forum is constantly evolving.  The best rewards are yet to come.”

(From Networking to change fortunes by Susan Mackenzie in Philanthropy UK's Special Report: Women & Philanthropy, March 2008)

This personal story is tagged under

  • Awards
  • Promoting philanthropy
  • Women's Philanthropy