Man on a Mission
Financier turned philanthropist Peter Bennett tells Marianna Cerini how he linked fundraising for charity to the city’s most rumbustious sporting event
Sit down with Peter Bennett for just a few minutes, and you’ll be swept away by the zeal he shows for his charity work. The retired hedge fund director, who was born in Hong Kong but spent his career between London and New York before moving back in 2005, is involved with a number of charity projects in the city. His most audacious is the Rugby Sevens-linked Mission Possible, a fundraising initiative launched in 2013. The concept is to sell seats in a donated premium box for a minimum of HK$20,000 each, with the proceeds going to Hong Kong-based charities tackling poverty. Corporate sponsorships and a silent auction also help raise money. This year’s event takes place from April 7 to 9. In past years the box was donated by the Hong Kong Rugby Union, but this year the government stepped in to back Mission Possible in partnership with the Commission on Poverty, an indication of Bennett’s ability to harness people’s empathy for a good cause. You left Hong Kong when you were only 14, then returned towards the end of your career. What triggered that decision, and what do you like most about the city? Being born here, it felt like slipping back into very familiar settings. Hong Kong is home. There’s an infectiously positive attitude everywhere you go, no doubt because of the amazing weather and the nature we are blessed with. The sense of community was also a major draw, especially compared to New York or London. It’s easy for people of all backgrounds and professions to connect here… it makes events like Mission Possible, well, possible.
The Hong Kong Rugby Sevens isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of charity. Why did you decide to hold Mission Possible during the tournament? I am a huge rugby fan. The idea to run Mission Possible during the Sevens came partly from that. I thought that connecting a great sport like rugby—and a worldclass event like the Hong Kong Sevens—with the equally great charitable mission of raising funds and awareness for poverty alleviation in the city would make the tournament even worthier of its recognition, and Hong Kong a better place. Mission Possible is like a bridge between two sides of Hong Kong: that of the hardships many people endure and that of the fun and celebratory spirit those of us who are luckier get to embrace. I’m for whatever fosters positive change; if we can have fun and give back at the same time, then let’s keep the party going.
What’s your most amusing memory from the past four instalments of Mission Possible? The time the Village People came to hang out at our box two years ago. It was crazy and completely unexpected. They partied with us for a good hour. Clearly we had the best box at the Sevens.
Last year you dressed up as Spider-man, the year before as the Queen of Hearts. What’s your costume going to be this time? I haven’t decided yet. GOD [Goods of Desire] is designing our box and we’re thinking of a 1970s Hong Kong theme. So we’ll see… Maybe I can try to replicate a police officer uniform from that era?
Your greatest piece of advice? I have two. If you want something to change, or you want to help on a particular issue, get out there and do it. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the experience. Just get involved, however you can. My second piece of advice is for people who are fortunate enough to have more money than they need: give back to charity. We really don’t need much to lead a happy life. The rest can go to help others, and trust me, there’s no better way to spend your money than that.
To buy tickets for seats in Mission Possible’s Rugby Sevens box, and to learn about this year’s beneficiaries, visit missionpossible.org.hk