Dame Stephanie ('Steve') Shirley
Q You have given generous support to the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University, and to Murray Edwards College. What is it about these causes that particularly interests you?
A My support is for pioneering, strategic projects in the two things I know and care about: IT (my professional discipline) and autism (my late son's disorder).
I started giving away what is laughingly called 'free money' in the early 90s. Since then, my donations to the Autism Research Centre have gone into six figures. Projects include the funding of a research studentship; an epidemiology study of autism in Cambridge schoolchildren; and some fascinating projects aimed to help those with autism to 'read' faces.
My support of Murray Edwards College dates from its history, as New Hall, of positively discriminating in the interests of women – which is what I did in my business life!
I'm also just in the process of giving a commissioned portrait of Professor Stephen Hawking OM to the Mathematics Centre. I am, or was, a (very pure) mathematician!
So the links are clear. And the more I give, the richer my relationship with Cambridge becomes.
Q How did you become involved with Cambridge?
A I was introduced to the Autism Research Centre by the National Autistic Society, the lead charity in England; and to Murray Edwards (then New Hall) by a (female) colleague from my software company.
Q What appeals to you about Cambridge?
A The university provides part of the due diligence process: was the money well spent in the way it was supposed to be? And Cambridge is magic for a mathematician, with the Computer Laboratory, in particular, being sacred ground for me. But I'm not an alumnus. I took my honours degree in maths at evening classes, and support a number of British universities.
Dame Stephanie Shirley is founder of the Shirley Foundation and of technology company, Xansa, and an Honorary Fellow of Murray Edwards College. "I have been very lucky in my life," she writes on her website. "My experience as an unaccompanied child refugee gave me the drive to prove that my life had been worth saving. My early experience of the 'glass ceiling' at work encouraged me to set up my own business which, thanks to my supportive husband, I did in 1962... The IT business, later known as Xansa and now part of Steria, prospered and I became wealthy. This wealth has enabled me to devote my 'retirement' to giving something back to society."
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