Funding education runs in their family


Businessman David Dangoor can pinpoint the first time he discovered the power of philanthropy.

Aged 18, and having just passed his driving test, he found himself stranded at midnight in the middle of nowhere when his car broke down.

Soon enough, a stranger stopped behind him with a can of petrol and poured half its contents into his car.

"I was so embarrassed as I didn't have any money to repay him," Dangoor, now 66, recalls.

"But he said to me: 'If you want to thank me, get yourself a can of petrol and, one day, do the same thing for someone else.'

Education has been our bedrock for the past 2,000 years

"That was a big lesson for me. Thanking people doesn't always mean giving back, but instead doing something good for another person."

These days, "doing good" is practically synonymous with the Dangoor name, especially when it comes to education.

While family patriarch Dr Naim Dangoor - today 100 years old - studied engineering in London in the 1930s, he waited until the 1960s to relocate his family to the UK from Iraq.

"My father brought us here but kept all his businesses in Baghdad. When it began to look difficult for the Jews, he decided to abandon everything."

"Everything" amounted to a rich business portfolio, including a property development company, a furniture factory, and the Iraqi leg of the Coca Cola franchise. But they left it all behind and started from scratch.

"Dad felt that what allowed us to come here was education. It's a very Jewish experience: the idea that they can take everything from you, but your education is your lifeline. He also felt, and still feels, that if you teach people when they first come to this country, you give them the tools to make a contribution. They then won't be drawn to more corrosive ideas around them."

And so it was that, 18 years after settling in London, Dr Dangoor set up the Exilarch Foundation. He named the charity "Exilarch" after his new self-appointed title as leader of Iraqi Jews in Britain. The prime focus? To guarantee a future for those in need of an education.

"He felt it important for his children to see him giving something back," says his son, who currently serves as president of the Board of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation. "Now that I am around that age myself, I can see the merit in that. Money can give people a sense of entitlement."

For more than 50 years now, the Exilarch Foundation has been instrumental in providing schooling for the neediest in society - Jews and non-Jews alike. In 2004, they created the Dangoor scholarships, which promised £1,000 to people applying to 1994 group universities who had no family history of further education, adding up to £1 million in total.

A few years later, they created the Eliahou Dangoor scholarships, named after Dr Dangoor's father, which sponsored 4,000 students applying for STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths). The government matched this funding, leading to a £4 million investment into higher education.

Among the family's many other philanthropic offerings, they have sponsored students at Birkbeck University and have been instrumental in the development of sponsored academies, such as Westminster Academy on Harrow Road (otherwise known as the Naim Dangoor Centre).

David Dangoor regularly attends governors' meetings, ensuring his involvement stretches beyond the financial. His wife, Judy, was the chair of governors at Naima Jewish Preparatory school in Westminster, and is now a governor at University College School in Hampstead, among other institutions. Their influence stretches from Jewish faith schools to those outside the community.

"One of the advantages of philanthropy is you can pick who you want to help," says Dangoor. "I'm a great one for enabling access to education. We tend to focus on certain groups where there is no tradition of further studying. Once you've got somebody motivated and have raised their expectations, it's a lot easier for them."

Having come from a society of persecution, the Dangoors are keen to show the benefit of Jews living in the UK.

"We make a huge contribution to this country," he says. "This is because education has been our bedrock for the past 2,000 years. I think it's important for people to see us actually giving this opportunity to others, both inside and outside the community. It's our way of saying thanks.

"If you educate people, then they start looking at those who are different as something more than 'other'. Broadening minds helps society.

"I had the privilege of coming from a place where people were not generally educated, and where there was all sorts of suspicion, to a country where there is universal education. I know very well which society I would like my children to grow up in."

The family remain committed to nurturing young minds and rewarding those who are breaking ground in education today. One recent addition to their roster of support projects is their forthcoming sponsorship of a Wizo commitment award. Aptly, they are sponsoring the prize for Commitment to Education.

The award, which will be presented by Naim Dangoor at a ceremony in July, is one of six prizes created by the charity to honour people of all faiths and backgrounds who work to improve the lives of others.

The Dangoor family mission, meanwhile, is far from over. "The one thing that, as a society, we cannot ignore, is the leverage of education for the future," Dangoor says. "When you spend £1 on education, there is £10 of good you can do.

"If you help in your own little way, you can really do some good."

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