Meet Brian Smouha: Founder, trustee and major donor of Coalition for Efficiency

by Angela Schlenkhoff-Hus, Programme Director for Coalition for Efficiency

It is with a mixture of amusement and pride that Brian tells me that in 2016 both he and his grandson were starting their Freshers’ Week. After more than 50 years since taking his last exam, Brian began a Masters at CASS Business School where he soon – often to his embarrassment – became a fountain of knowledge for the lecturers. It is no mean feat to go back to the lecture halls and essay writing when you are in your late 70s and successfully graduate with an MSc in Charity Management. Amongst his main achievements during a long and successful career at Deloitte were auditing the World Bank and completing the worldwide liquidation of the collapsed bank BCCI . He certainly did not have anything to prove!

But that’s not what drives him. Brian will often cite his competitive streak as one of his ‘vices’, but what really motivates him is a curiosity and thirst to better understand how charities work and how they can best be supported with the limited resources available. In his view, the charity sector is the glue that holds our society together. It is a way of enabling those that have something to give – such as time, money, skills – to support others in society and reach those in difficulty. In an increasingly disconnected and individualistic world, it can be difficult to know how to help or make a difference to people outside of your own circles. Charities have an all-important role to play here, connecting us with each other and linking resources to needs and solutions. It is this powerful chemistry that Brian feels charities can create for our society that keeps his ambition and passion alive. And he has a lot of admiration for staff and volunteers who choose to work in charities, often in challenging circumstances, to contribute to the greater good.

It was this drive to help charities maximise the limited resources available that led him to found Coalition for Efficiency in 2010, which he has supported as a trustee and major donor ever since. Brian helped  to develop a support approach that has evolved to become Measuring the Good. It is Brian’s belief that “charities are under a huge obligation to convert money and the effort of volunteers into benefit for people who need it and to bring about change.” Measuring the Good is designed to provide the stable rod from which everything can hang – charities are given the skills, knowledge and headspace to measure the things that matter, beneficiaries are given a voice and stake in the change process, and the volunteers have a mechanism to give and share their skills and expertise. In Brian’s words, “we are all part of a jigsaw puzzle, you only see the whole picture when you fit all the pieces together”.

The value of volunteering and the role of volunteers has been Brian’s particular interest since beginning his studies at CASS. He is fascinated by the effect that volunteering has on those who choose to give their time for other people and organisations without expecting any monetary reward. Organisations can benefit from the skills, expertise and perspective provided by skilled volunteers (as is the case with Measuring the Good). And for an individual,  it can be an important and heart-warming experience realising that a stranger cared enough to support them through a difficult time in their lives: “It’s a deviation in the direction that our society has moved; it reconnects people”. The volunteers benefit from knowing that their time is valued and used in the best possible way for the charity, for the people it is serving and for society as whole. Ultimately, this positive experience for the volunteers and the recognition of their contribution will encourage them and hopefully others to continue giving.

Brian’s vision, humility and generosity have led to over 130 organisations and 92 volunteers taking part in the Measuring the Good programme and many more that stand to benefit. We are very grateful to him for enabling this achievement as well as the enormous sum of positive changes – for organisations, communities, volunteers and their networks – that is possible as a result as well as our learning resulting from the programme that we are able to share. Brian never stands still, and we look forward to seeing his plans for 2020 unfold!