Raising the Stakes

Born and bred in London and a former poker player, 31-year-old Jake Hayman now advises some of the world’s wealthiest business leaders on how to invest their money in philanthropy

Jake Hayman believes in taking risks. While it might seem anathema to charities and business leaders to take a leap into the deep end, he is a case in point of how taking a gamble can pay off.

A decade ago, Hayman started playing high stakes poker at 21 after graduating with a history degree from Nottingham University to earn some extra cash.

In 2005, he moved to New York to pursue a career in finance and management consultancy. Starting a career in a new city was not without its challenges, however, and he soon realised he needed to find a second source of income.

“I was getting paid $30,000 a year in Manhattan and I didn’t want to live in Queens and commute every day,” says Hayman, who was born in Camden, north London.

I decided to start playing poker regularly and found a good game with some Wall Street guys. Eventually, I made enough to subsidise my living expenses and to come back to the UK to start my own business.

Today, he is the chief executive of The Social Investment Consultancy (TSIC), an organisation which advises clients – whether they are wealthy philanthropists or large corporations looking to invest in charitable causes – on where to allocate their capital.

TSIC describes itself as operating “at the intersection of the for and non-profit worlds.” That has meant providing impact advisory reports on everything from water projects in Malawi to community centres in central London.

Hayman’s clients includes the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, the John Lewis Foundation, Dubai hotel group Jumeirah, technology firm Ericsson, the UAE’s Standard Chartered Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Holly and Sam Branson, the children of Virgin entrepreneur Richard Branson.

With teams in Dubai, London and New York, the consultancy also offers its services to social enterprises and entertainment firms.

Hayman, who has three brothers, was not an academic success but discovered an instinct for risk assessment at a young age.

He went to a school in a mixed neighbourhood where students spoke more than 90 different languages, double the national average at the time.

At university, he did not excel but was prompted to pursue a different path by a chance encounter.

“I met a really pretty girl who would not go on a date with me, but invited me to a lecture with her on the Middle East,” says Hayman. “I went along and spent the next four years working for the guy who gave the talk.”

That speaker was Mohammad Darawshe, a Palestinian who, together with Mexican entrepreneur Daniel Lubetzky, founded One Voice, an initiative campaigning for a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, which aims to empower people on both sides.

Hayman helped them strengthen their foundation and ended up working with major firms such as technology firm IBM and YouTube as a result.

“It was the first time I met someone I thought was truly visionary and who had the guts to fail, which is something I have come to value more than anything else,” says Hayman.

“That is the main problem with the sector today. A lot of people providing funding do not have the guts to fail.

“I got introduced to [the idea of] making social change in a slightly different way.”

“It is about people who want to think big and hold themselves accountable. Those were the key values I took on and the values the consultancy is based on today.”

He adds TSIC fills the gaps governments are unable to rather than replicating their work.

Philanthropists or charitable organisations, he says, have become too conservative “in the name of professionalism” and often have the same mission as those in authority, failing to effect change.

“The whole purpose of the philanthropic sector is innovation and in order to innovate, you have to take risks,” he adds.

“What should have been a positive development – and to some extent has been – has led to a movement away from what the charity sector was designed for, which is to help those most in need whom the government could not.”

So how can TSIC make a difference? One needs to take a step back and find “great ideas and entrepreneurs” to invest in “the diamond in the rough that can change the world,” says Hayman.

He believes philanthropists would benefit from adopting an entrepreneurial outlook, especially when it comes to taking risks and investing in areas they might not traditionally consider.

“You will find the bravest business leaders approach philanthropy with the biggest fear – fear of being ripped off, of corruption, inefficiency and doing something that does not work. They need to find a way through that fear,” he says.

The organisation focuses on areas of human development such as education, the wellbeing of the planet, poverty alleviation and health.

TSIC, which charges a fee for projects, goes to great lengths to educate people before they spend their money so they can understand the problems they will solve and the markets they will invest in. That can include taking them to schools, hospitals and small businesses.

As for the future, Hayman is considering opening offices in Nairobi in Kenya and Almaty in Kazakhstan to establish a presence on the ground.

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