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“The final amount of R26 054 869 was noted by BDO SA, the appointed auditor and Accounting Partner to The CEO SleepOut, and is believed to be the largest amount raised in South Africa for a single event,” says Ali Gregg, founder and CEO of The CEO SleepOut.

“Everyone involved is thrilled to see an organisation like Girls & Boys Town receiving a donation of this size, knowing that GBT offers long-term, sustainable solutions and care to homeless and vulnerable children.”

The CEO SleepOut originated in 2006 in Sydney, Australia. It was started by local business leader Bernard Fehon, who conceived the idea while working on a fundraiser for Australia’s St Vincent de Paul Society (Vinnies), a non-profit organisation that combats social injustice across Australia, specifically homelessness.

With a passion for assisting the homeless and vulnerable, particularly children, Gregg engaged Fehon back in 2012 to extend the concept to South Africa. Thus began a process of putting together a South African and international team that would ensure the ethical, transparent success of Fehon’s idea – and create an opportunity for homelessness to be highlighted across South Africa, while enabling those in a position to effect immediate changes to do so.

It was on this platform that on 18 June 2015 – a chilly mid-winter evening with temperatures dropping to -3°C – that 247 of the country’s CEOs, business leaders, influencers and top decision -makers responded to the call to action to sleep on the street to create awareness of and raise funds for the cause of homelessness.

Participants were tasked with raising a minimum of R100 000 each, payable directly to the GBT. Says Gregg: “Accountability and transparency are key, and GBT will release details on the allocation of funds after consideration from The CEO SleepOut Trust and appointed Working Group.”

Members of the Trust Working Group include representation from 702, Sun International, City of Johannesburg, Adams & Adams, BDO, Ethics Monitor, Institute of Directors, Mpowered, Nedbank and Proudly SA.

Huddled around braziers on the chilly June night, South African Captains of Industry interacted with the homeless and listened to inspiring life stories from GBT graduates. Participants received a sleeping bag and a cardboard chair which converted into a thin floor covering. Each realised it was more than many homeless people have, and the mood was solemn as the reality of what it may be like to sleep on the streets every night hit home.

Co-Title Sponsor, Sun International’s Chief Operations Officer Rob Collins, called the event an “unprecedented success” which captured the hearts and minds of South Africa. “The objective was achieved and more than R26-million was raised for people less fortunate than us. Having experienced this event, I know we can make this a countrywide event due to our huge national footprint of hotels, resorts and casinos across Southern Africa,” he said.

Said Alexia Poulous, Marketing Manager Primedia Broadcasting: “The objective of the event was not only to raise much-needed funds to donate to Girls & Boys Town, but to make the participants think differently about what it’s like to be homeless, poverty stricken and marginalised. It was to push these business leaders to think beyond profit, to purpose.”

The top contributor for funds raised by a single participant was Brett Levy, Joint CEO of Blue Label Telecoms, with R540 000. “The CEO SleepOut was an incredibly impactful event for me on a personal level and certainly fulfilled the mandate of finding a way to help those in need,” Levy said. “It also illustrated the power of collective energy to show the true spirit of ‘ubuntu’. It was inspiring to see our local business community unite to address such an important issue in an environment different from one that all CEOs are typically exposed to, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s SleepOut.”

Paul Dunne, CEO Northam Platinum, was the second highest contributor with R429 900 raised. “The CEO SleepOut was indeed a humbling experience, both in terms of enduring what many marginalised people in our society are subjected to every day, and by the generosity of the supporters of this worthy cause. What the success of this initiative demonstrates is that each and every one of us can work towards building an equitable society, in a growth-orientated South Africa where everyone has the opportunity to contribute to its future.”

Investec Bank’s CEO Stephen Koseff, who raised R400 500, added: “We live in a world of inequality and if you become a CEO you are very privileged. Being one of the privileged few, we have to understand how the underprivileged live.”

Both Fehon and Gregg are delighted with the extraordinary success of The CEO SleepOut in Johannesburg, noting that the experience changes the way CEOs think. Says Fehon: “It is one night where business and community leaders with many differences unite to consider together the broader community. As they listen to stories of those who have no home and often no family to support them, CEOs have conversations about their own life journeys, reflect on how lucky they have been and consider how they can help others.”

“The social impact of this philanthropic event reached beyond the business leaders sleeping in Gwen Lane in Sandton,” Gregg says. “Companies like Business Connexion, Discovery, Hogan Lovell, IQ Business, Sage Pastel Accounting and Sun International’s Sun City, Sibaya Casino and Carnival City demonstrated solidarity and created Sympathy SleepOuts for staff to sleep outdoors at their own business premises. Schoolchildren at Auckland Park Preparatory, Fairlands Primary and King David shared the experience by holding School SnoozeOuts.”

GBT was the chosen beneficiary as it met four key areas identified by the global CEO SleepOut brand and call to action: Shelter, nutrition, education and healthcare. GBT’s CEO Lee Loynes says: “This is a moment in our history that we will never forget because through the event our children, those cared for by other similar organisations and those living on the streets – young and old – have become visible.”

These aren’t just words, neatly packed to sound helpful “in theory”; these are the very real concepts on which the global movement of positive change is built.
It’s with these ideas that The Philanthropic Collection home to The CEO SleepOut is turning old world philanthropy on its head;
getting business leaders to sleep on the streets to raise funds and gain empathy for the homeless in The CEO SleepOut Event;
and sparking conversations that truly lead to worldwide action.

By Ali Gregg