We talk to the founder and chairman of Emerald Insurance, Steve Wardlaw, about their LGBT+ rights and support work in South Africa.
When Emerald – the UK’s first insurer dedicated to LGBT+ and women’s equality – was set up in 2016, one of its key elements was to be an advocate globally for equality. Part of that is in the UK – with its partnership with Terrence Higgins Trust – but it was also intended to be an advocate for change globally.
The founder and chairman of Emerald, Steve Wardlaw, has been an LGBT-rights activist for over 30 years, starting his battles when Section 28/Clause 28 was first proposed by the government of the day. For him, giving back has always been a priority.
“Like it or not, there are places in the world where the LGBT+ community has it worse. Bigger, more conservative, insurers talk a good game, and may have glossier ads than us, but most of their outside spend goes in sponsoring rugby, motor racing or another sport designed to appeal largely to straight men. Yes there is a token nod towards equality as they host an event for Pride, or something similar, but we don’t see insurers really fighting to change the world. And where they do give, it’s to a ‘brand name’ LGBT organisation, rather than looking for the most change possible.”
Emerald wanted its customers to feel involved in the process of donating to worthwhile grassroots initiatives, so customers can choose to direct 5% of their premiums to Emerald’s 50Fund. The 50Fund has partnered with the charity GiveOut to locate small organisations in Southern Africa where those contributions will have a real impact.
One of the recipients is a charity called Access Chapter 2, which works to empower LGBT+ activists in South African townships through training and skills. It held its first Advocacy Week this September, with young activists being taught by many of those who had fought to end apartheid. Steve is a regular visitor there too.
“We regularly post on Emerald’s social media about the work done by the charities that Emerald supports. The more customers choose to divert 5% of their premiums, the more that we can do, but it’s also important that we see real change through these programmes. Access Chapter 2 is run by a woman called Steve Letsike, a force of nature dedicated to creating the next generation of activists.”
The next priority for Emerald is to encourage other organisations to sign up to the 50Fund. Steve Wardlaw says: “While we were delighted to set up the 50Fund, it was never designed to be just an Emerald vehicle. We’ve had interest from a global law firm and some South African-owned businesses here in the UK that want to make a change in Southern Africa and like the platform that we have set up. How they contribute may be different. For example, one retailer is looking at donating 2% from sales of their products to the 50Fund. The South African High Commission is also keen to help, so we may jointly host a pre-Pride event with them next year.”
So what next for the 50Fund? Emerald is looking at working with the Other Foundation, an academic body that promotes legal change by direct engagement with political ministers in Southern Africa (like Stonewall in its early days) and with religious and cultural leaders. And there’s still more to do.
“Everyone thinks of South Africa as leading the way on LGBT+ rights.” Steve concludes. “And in its way it is, but even now there are no out LGBT+ business leaders, and LGBT+ people are only seen in the entertainment sector. As an out LGBT+ businessman who set up the UK’s first LGBT+ friendly insurer, I want to change that. And – frankly – so do our customers through this initiative.”