If you want a perfect example of the international scope and reach of the Budapest Burns Supper and the Robert Burns International Foundation, look no further than this year’s winner of the Sponsor of the Year award: Starwood Hotels and Resorts.
The group, whose brands include Sheraton, Westin, and W Hotels, among others, is represented in Budapest by Le Méridien, whose GM, Adrian Gray, is deeply involved both in the supper and the RBIF. Significantly, however, the award is going to Starwood, and not just the local hotel, because of a truly international fundraising campaign.
“In 2007, there was a Starwood conference here in Budapest, and a large number of delegates came from all over Europe,” explains Gray. The conference programme included an element of Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR), and the delegates spent some time at the Semmelweis hospital (which has always had close links with the Budapest Burns’ Supper), painting furniture and walls, and breaking ground and laying mulch for a park area in 42°C heat. But that proved to be only a beginning.
“Due to the reorganisation of the hospital system by the state, Semmelweis had taken on an oncology department, which needed complete redevelopment, and it had run out of money,” says Gray. “The shortfall amounted to EUR 20,000, and the delegates took it on themselves to go back and raise the money. Hotels from Europe, Africa and the Middle East were involved in individual fund raising projects, and eventually raised EUR 23,000. The oncology department is now operational.”
Gray himself was instrumental in helping reorganise the Burns’ Supper committee, and sits on the RBIF’s Curatorium. His hotel organises St Andrew’s and St Patrick’s balls, as well as the annual Budapest Waiters’ Race, all of which generate funds for the RBIF (the 2008 Waiters’ Race raised HUF 52,500, around EUR 200).
He gets involved with the events, which he is keen to stress are, by now, as much Hungarian- as they are expat-orientated, partly because he is a good Scot. (Interestingly, that was also one of the reasons Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United Football Club, gave for agreeing to become the RBIF’s Honorary President in January 2007.) But there are wider, deeper issues too.
“I think all the hotels here are quite heavily involved in the life of Budapest. This is a way of giving something back to some of those who wouldn’t necessarily be involved at the five-star hotel level. When we first started doing this, we were in a country that faced a lot of challenges, and here was something we could do to help.”
The award is officially known as the Ferenc Puskás – Sir Alex Ferguson Sponsor of the Year trophy, and features a football crafted from copper. It was made by a Scottish artist and presented to Erzsébet Puskás in honour of her late husband, the legendary Hungarian footballer. She, in turn, gave it to the RBIF in the hope it could be put to good use. It has.
Although, at the time of writing, the final details have still to be arranged, the Sponsor of the Year award is due to be presented in January to Gray by Sir Alex at Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground. It is known, appropriately, as the Theatre of Dreams. Starwood, and other major sponsors like them, are ensuring both operating theatres and children’s dreams can become reality.
By Robin Marshall