20 years of radical collaboration with Virgin Unite

Holly Branson, Richard Branson and Jean Oelwang on Necker Island
Virgin Unite
Holly Branson
Holly Branson's writing
Published on 12 June 2024

It fills me with such pride that Virgin Unite has been successfully challenging unacceptable issues, all over the world, for 20 years. That’s two decades of positive global impact that has touched millions and millions of lives.

I was 22 years old when we launched the foundation to address some of the world’s toughest issues that many businesses and governments didn’t want to touch. Dad and Jean Oelwang (Virgin Unite’s founding CEO) knew that if we took an entrepreneurial approach to philanthropy and collaborated in a radical way, we would be in the best possible position to tackle problems like the war on drugs, capital punishment, the climate crisis, and global conflicts, to name just a few. 

To celebrate the anniversary, I sat down with Dad and Jean to reflect on the past 20 years and to look ahead to the future of the foundation.  

20 years of Virgin Unite: a conversation between Richard Branson, Holly Branson, and Jean Oelwang

What I love most about Virgin Unite is its focus on radical collaboration. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a global community to solve the greatest challenges of our time. The team has known this since day one, so they sought to create a community of leaders, innovators and activists all around the world, who become unstoppable when you put them together. From incubating leadership collectives like The Elders (who focus on peace, justice, and human rights) alongside collectives like The B Team (who advocate for human-first responsible business practices), and groups like the Planetary Guardians (who work to secure the Earth’s future), Virgin Unite can tackle issues from all angles.

Richard Branson
Alexandre Virgilio

A good example Dad shared in the video above was at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference when the Paris Agreement was being negotiated. The Elders were there to provide a moral perspective, and The B Team were there to provide the business perspective. This comprehensive wisdom and influence proved very helpful in persuading countries to join the agreement.

I also admire how Virgin Unite challenges the idea that you should stay in your lane. Very early on, the team realised that many of the world’s issues were interconnected, and decided to use radical collaboration and an entrepreneurial approach to address many problems at the same time. Beyond the issues I mentioned above, Virgin Unite also works towards LGBTQ+ equality, ocean conservation, clean energy technology, entrepreneurship, creating opportunities for people to lift themselves out of poverty, education transformation, criminal justice reform, STEM and improving the lives of young girls and women. Incredible. 

Holly Branson, Sam Branson and Richard Branson
Erika P. Rodriguez

As we discussed in the interview, it’s been vital to incubate these projects in a way that they can grow to run themselves. This will ensure the work continues for decades to come, thanks to the tenacious work from so many people all around the world who contribute to our efforts. 

speaking at the Founders Unite award ceremony
Kami White

When looking ahead to the next 20 years, I agree with Dad that the ultimate hope would be that Virgin Unite doesn’t need to exist. As Dad said: “No more conflicts, no more wars on drugs, no more capital punishment...” While it’s sadly likely that many of the issues will endure, we have endless faith that Virgin Unite will still be tackling them and working tirelessly towards a better world.