By Dame Stephanie SHIRLEY, philanthropist and Kindertransportee.

Dame Shirley

Dame Stephanie Shirley

Last year, I visited Israel for the first time and then a second time. I had previously avoided going because, as a young Kindertransportee, I was fostered by a wonderful Christian couple so I never felt Jewish, yet I never wanted to visit as a ‘tourist’ because I am, in truth, a Jew.

I found Jerusalem holy to several religions and with an almost tangible spirituality. I learnt a great deal about both Israel and myself afterwards.

WIZOUK serves all strands of Israeli society, regardless of race and religion, including essential social welfare assistance for more than 50,000 children who attend its nurseries, after school clubs, youth villages and vocational training programmes. It is non-political and non-denominational, which resonates strongly with my beliefs.

I was invited to be on the judging panel of WIZOUK’s inaugural Commitment Awards with Jewish News editor Richard Ferrer, Alondon magazine editor Anat Koren and Luciana Berger MP.

Nothing could better these awards, which “weave strands of hope into the fabric of society”, and are divided into four categories: Entrepreneur, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Women in the Workplace and Commitment to Israel. Each candidate was inspiring, and collectively they were immensely impressive.

The Commitment Award ‘Entrepreneur’ category is for a philanthropic entrepreneur.

The inspirational winner, David Altschuler who founded the One-to-One children’s fund, has improved the lives of tens of thousands of children with HIV over many years and across four continents; he has founded organisations and taken them into sustainability; he has provided exemplary corporate practices and governance; and developed networks of clinics to share best practice.

It has long been known CSR is good for staff recruitment, retention and morale. Recent research shows it also directly affects profitability, by attracting more customers, customers who stay longer, and customers buying more on each transaction.

KPMG’s commitment to CSR in the Jewish and wider community meant it won in this category. It sends out teams to Jewish Care homes weekly and runs insightful sessions at Jewish secondary schools. It is a wonderful example of how a corporatation can help the wider community.

In the 1960s, I could have been a candidate for the Women in the Workplace Commitment Award designed for an individual promoter of women’s business and working needs. My software house, a company of women, a company for women, was similarly on a crusade for women.

I strongly identify with Karen Mattison MBE, winner of the Women in the Workplace Award. She is a modern fighter for flexible working hours and part-time jobs for mothers, both as founder of the Timewise Foundation, Timewise Recruitment and Women Like Us.

WIZOUK’s Commitment to Israel Award was open to individuals or an organisation making an outstanding and ongoing contribution to Israel strengthening ties with the UK, which was won by author and blogger Chas Newkey-Burden. He is not Jewish but vociferously defends Israel in his blog OyVaGoy and in print. He has presented to non-Jewish public schools, including Eton College, and the Israeli Embassy. He is even running to raise funds for Colel Chabad on Sunday.

All the winners will visit Israel next year and meet their respective industry counterparts and visit a selection of WIZO’s outstanding 800 centres.

Competition has been fierce and making the final decision was not easy. The presentation of these awards will take place at the WIZOUK dinner on 14 October. Few people give to be thanked or recognised. But awards such as these not only give pleasure to nominators, finalists and winners but also – and most importantly – encourage many others.

Awards are, of course, retrospective. Who will be next year’s winners?

• Dame Stephanie’s memoir Let IT Go is available as an ebook or from all good bookstores. She will be in conversation with Natasha Kaplinsky at the WIZOUK dinner on 14 October. Details: http://wizouk.org/