Anyone tempted to think that top financiers are too focused on making money to take note of the world's social ills, should consider the charitable efforts of Arpad “Arki” Busson, the French hedge fund guru. Busson has made money – and plenty of it. Estimates place his personal wealth at somewhere around the £100 million (€147 million; $181 million) mark. But Busson the wealth accumulator is now also earning a reputation as Busson the wealth distributor.
The charity he founded, Absolute Return for Kids (Ark), recently pledged £2 million to build seven “city academy” schools (modeled on US charter schools) catering for some of the most deprived children in London. The first such academy will be launched in Southwark, South London, with others planned for Hackney, Hammersmith, Lambeth and Westminster.
Not that Busson, 42, has met with universal approval for his plans. Some UK politicians and teachers are said to be concerned that the academies will not be answerable to local authorities, meaning they will have control over the appointment of governors, the curriculum and the school ethos.
In Islington, North London, Ark was forced to abandon plans for what would have been its first academy when the governors at one of two schools Ark wanted to take over launched a successful rearguard action against what they saw as further evidence of the creeping semiprivatisation of the education system. Ark said it had pulled the plug because the project had become too complex, while the governors of one of the schools that stood to be taken over claimed credit for its abandonment after venting their grievances outside Ark's headquarters. Assembled protestors dressed as fat cats chanted, “hey, bankers, leave those kids alone!” to the tune of Pink Floyd classic
As someone who is also dedicated to tackling grievous problems such as AIDS in South Africa and the plight of orphans in Eastern Europe, Busson is unlikely to allow the odd mauling such as this to derail his ambitions entirely. Nonetheless, it goes to show how hard it is for hedge fund investors to make friends – even when they're trying to give money away.