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Dr Naim Dangoor

Over 70 years ago, while studying in the UK, Dr Naim Dangoor made a promise to himself that if he were ever to be successful he would give a significant portion of money to support educational causes. Over 40 years ago he also promised that he would find a way to thank the country that gave his family refuge after escaping Baathist Iraq. This evening, when taken with countless previous acts of philanthropy, represents the fruition of this promise.

Dr Dangoor’s life story is extraordinary. Coming from a prominent Iraqi family - his grandfather Rabbi Ezra Dangoor was the Chief Rabbi of Baghdad - Naim Dangoor first came to the UK to study engineering at the University of London in the 1930’s. Returning to his native country he joined the army and went on to build a successful business empire in property and manufacturing.

In 1946 he married Reneé Dangoor who shortly afterwards was crowned the first ever Miss Baghdad. Alongside his Muslim business partner, Dr Dangoor was in control of the Coca-Cola franchise for Iraq throughout the 1950s.

Despite his great success, the political upheaval in Iraq caused him to follow many of his Jewish countrymen and depart his homeland. In 1964, when he left Iraq to settle in the UK a decree was issued by the Baath Party that all members of the Iraqi Jewish Diaspora must return to Iraq or risk losing all their assets. Dr Dangoor chose asylum and was forced to leave behind his friends, his properties and his successful business.

Starting again with very little Dr Dangoor became a success once more, building a property development business, where he was followed by his four sons.

But Dr Dangoor’s business achievements are only one side to his story. His charitable and community work has also been an enormous part of his life in the UK. Soon after settling here Dr Dangoor set up a community centre in West Kensington for new immigrants to meet regularly and provide mutual support and guidance. In 1971 to further his efforts to unite the Iraqi Jewish Diaspora he set up ‘The Scribe’ as the Journal of Babylonian Jewry. For over thirty years he has been the editor of this journal and a prolific contributor, recording the history and experiences of the Diaspora and helping to bring together its world-wide readership.

It was at this time that Naim Dangoor established the ‘Exilarch’s foundation’ as a charitable trust to help educational and other projects in Britain and internationally. These projects have ranged from saving schools from demolition to the extensive lentils and rice programme in Jerusalem, providing 10,000 bags a week for thousands of the city’s poor. In 2006 Dr Dangoor sponsored the Westminster Academy, where a significant proportion of the intake are from refugee backgrounds and 90% have English as a second language. This school has seen a remarkable turnaround, going from 20% of students getting 5 GCSEs with A* to C grades in its first year, to 72% in this, its 3rd year. In July 2006, on the Queen's 80th Birthday, Dr Dangoor was awarded an OBE in recognition of his work for the Jewish Community and for Education.

And tonight is not the first time that Dr Dangoor has shown enormous generosity to British universities. In 2005 he gave £1 million for university scholarships. At the time he stated:

“I promised myself that if I was ever able to help a British university student I would, to assist the native people of the country that welcomed me. But I never dreamt I would be able to make such a big contribution”

With the launch of the Eliahou Dangoor scholarships, worth a total of over £4 million (boosted by matched government funding), Dr Dangoor has added another chapter to his remarkable story. Thanks to his generous donation students across the country will be able to benefit from what is estimated to be the largest private bursary or scholarship scheme of its kind in the UK.

Click here to view the press release for the launch of the Eliahou Dangoor scholarships at Leicester.

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