Putting a bunch of pension industry people into a group for a week might sound like a great networking opportunity – or alternatively a recipe for heated arguments about underfunding or the rights and wrongs of asset liability modelling.
Putting those people on bikes and having them cycle 400 kilometres might seem a little strange – but stranger things have happened in this business.
Thankfully the gathering was for a higher purpose than mere business chat. The 39 (fool-)hardy individuals – half of them from the pensions business – got together with a shared objective: a sponsored bike ride for charity. This was to be no spin in the park, though – the team planned to cycle from the slopes of Mount Kenya across the equator to the shores of Lake Victoria.
The route was to take the intrepid riders through the Rift Valley from Lake Turkana in the north to Lake Magadi in the south – crossing from inhospitable desert through fertile farming country and back to desert.
Organiser Angela Docherty, who works in pensions at Unilever, says the ride has already raised over £100,000 (e143,000). “The sense of camaraderie was fantastic,” she says, adding that Africa was quite an eye-opener for those on the trip that hadn’t been there before.
The charity Docherty runs in her ‘spare’ time is New Ways, which support health, education, water and agricultural development projects in Africa and South America.
“Our focus is on projects that are sustainable and provide a basis for the long-term development of a community or region, mostly in areas that are particularly remote or deprived,” Docherty says. “The money from the bike ride will contribute towards water infrastructure projects.”
She explains that the charity’s aim is to empower the people it helps – by giving them the right tools to help themselves, not just handouts. The water projects, including dams and wind pumps, will help provide people with the infrastructure to grow their own food, Docherty says.
Most of New Ways’ funding goes to the Turkana region of northern Kenya, working with the Missionary Community of St Paul the Apostle, a Catholic missionary organisation. “To be honest,” Docherty says, “for me, this is my passion in life.” Now how many of us can say that about the pension industry?