Easyjet founder offers cash for Cypriots who cross divide

Mon Oct 26, 2009 12:40pm EDT
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By Michele Kambas

LARNACA (Reuters Life!) - Easyjet founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou's guilty conscience is set to be a boon for some Cypriot businesses, as long as they are able to bridge the chasm dividing the island's Greek and Turkish communities.

Haji-Ioannou, whose family is from Cyprus, is offering financial aid to businesses to help foster closer cooperation between its estranged communities. Beneficiaries must be ventures jointly run by Greek and Turkish Cypriots -- a rare breed on an island split for decades.

"Its the multiplier effect. If I can encourage these teams to break down the barriers between communities they may change the landscape on the island," Haji-Ioannou told Reuters.

Better known as the founder of the no-frills budget airline and a host of spin-off brands distinctive for their in-your-face orange logo, Haji-Ioannou is willing to pay out up to one 1 million euros ($1.5 million) of his own funds to assist business projects.

Over the next four years his philanthropic foundation will be offering five grants annually, each worth 50,000 euros.

Haji-Ioannou, the son of a shipping magnate, says spending is partly his way of assuaging a guilty conscience for being born rich.

"Every rich person has a debt to repay to society, and I was a rich kid too so I feel twice as guilty," he said, half jokingly.

In a hip cafe with not a hint of burned orange in sight, nine teams of entrepreneurs gave brief presentations after being shortlisted from 46 applicants. The 10th team did not show up. "Their loss," Haji-Ioannou shrugged.   Continued...