Hubert Burda Media

Sentebale CEO Cathy Ferrier on Polo Philanthropy

Prince Harry’s charity boss chats with us on the sidelines of the first Sentebale Royal Salute Polo Cup in Asia.

In town with charity co-founder Prince Harry and his pro polo-playing mates for yesterday’s 2017 Sentebale Royal Salute Polo Cup at the Singapore Polo Club, Sentebale CEO Cathy Ferrier tells us why the sport is an ideal platform for raising awareness and funds for vulnerable children in Lesotho and Botswana, many of whom are affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

You’re here for the Sentebale Royal Salute Polo Cup. Why is polo such a fitting platform for the charity?

Well, because Prince Harry is happy to play polo all over the world for us. We do one Sentebale Polo Cup every year, at wherever his travels bring him. It’s great to be in Singapore but we’ve been to all sorts of different places — Brazil, the US twice, Abu Dhabi…it’s great. It allows us to reach a very different group of people with the messaging and purpose of the organisation. We have some great corporate sponsors, such as Royal Salute, which therefore means we can raise a lot of really important funds to be able to innovate on the ground and make new programming.

It’s a lovely sport with a lot of very generous people attached to it, like one of our ambassadors [Argentine polo player and face of Ralph Lauren] Nacho Figueras, who’s just so generous with his time and energy. Every time you ask Nacho to do something, the answer is yes — which is amazing for someone so busy. There really is some really lovely people around. Malcolm Borwick [who captained Team Sentebale at the cup] is great as well.

Polo has the perception of being the domain of the wealthy. Does it help that the target audience has extra means to help?

I don’t think it matters to us [that they’re rich]. Hopefully we at Sentebale present an opportunity for people to do something they enjoy, and give back.

Do you play polo yourself?

I ride really badly. I would be really hopeless at polo! But I love [the sport]. I am in awe of how quick, how fast and how skilled they all are, but I would not be able to do that. 

There are a lot of causes and charities all vying for attention. How do you tailor your message?

I’m very respectful of the fact that people who are philanthropic and want to give, give to whatever is their passion — for some people that might be the arts, for others it may be a health related issue, or something that geographically makes sense for them. I don’t think you can expect everybody to be as passionate about your cause as you are. All we can do at Sentebale is make the work as effective and as impactful as we possibly can, and then tell people about it. It’s very much up to the individual to decide how they want to give and which sector or sphere they want to give to. Me? I’m passionate about Sentebale because I genuinely believe that a very small amount of money in Lesotho goes a very long way — you can actually make a massive difference to lots of young people’s lives; you can almost change the tide of the epidemic for a generation. That’s what we want to do at Sentebale, and I just hope people come along with us on that journey.

Do you remember your very first trip to Lesotho? What was that like?

Yes, I do. I flew out within two or three weeks of joining the charity. In that first year I spent a week of every month in Lesotho meeting every single community partner that we had. It’s a lot of travelling around the country, and not just to the capital where the office is. It’s an amazing place. It’s very poor but it’s very beautiful and its people are absolutely fantastic. It’s quite mountainous, so the travel can be quite tough.

You work for two princes, Prince Harry and Prince Seeiso of Lesotho. How difficult or easy is that, particularly with royal protocols and all?  

(laughs) There are royal protocols, yes. But thankfully, both princes are founders of the charity, so they’ve always been very invested in the charity because it’s theirs, it’s not anybody else’s. So I don’t find that I have to worry too much about things — they genuinely want to know what’s going on and they’re both very heavily involved on the ground. Prince Harry’s been out on the ground working with us maybe half a dozen times since I’ve been here. Once you’re in Lesotho working in the mountains, not much protocol goes on. It’s all fairly relaxed. And Prince Seeiso obviously is from the country and massively passionate about the work we do. So I can call upon him pretty well all the time when I’m in Lesotho to help out, and he does. They’re both very engaged.

You’ve more professional experience than perhaps Prince Harry. But learning goes both ways. Is there anything you’ve learned from him?

What Prince Harry brings, which I think is unique, is that he has the most amazing empathy with young people and an ability to communicate and connect with them that is very inspiring. So I think that’s what I’ve watched and learned from him.

The charity started in Lesotho before expanding its reach into Botswana. What’s next?

Our plan by 2020 is to be in five southern African countries.

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