A charity based in London is cashing in on the publicity surrounding Bob Geldof KBE and Band Aid to raise large sums of money, the bulk of which is swallowed in administrative costs. The charity, called The Hunger Project, is linked to a Californian sect known as Erhard Seminars Training, or EST, whose best known member is the singer John Denver.
The Sunday Times has established that the group tells its new recruits, who volunteer to help to raise money, that it is 'a partnership' with Band Aid, although no such connection exists.
The latest accounts from the Hunger Project, for the year ending December 1984, show that little was spent on anything else besides administration. Of 192,658 pounds raised, just says pounds 7,048 was spent on direct aid to the starving. The project that more will be spent on direct aid this year, but will not give a figure.
Figures published in 1984 indicate that about 15% of its revenues is spent on a newsletter and 8% on educational briefings. But by far the greatest expense is staff, communications and conference organising which account for 55%.
Project volunteers are not licensed to collect money on the street, although The Sunday Times discovered that they do. The chairman of the organisation, Michael Frye, said yesterday: 'People are not asking for money on the street but asking if people are interested in giving money via enrolment cards. '
Christian Aid, which spends only 17% of its revenues on administration, said last week that the organisation, which aims to enrol 1% of the UK population by the end of the year, was threatening the good name of agencies whose principal aim is supplying practical resources to the starving.
Hunger Project, which claims to have 'enrolled' 4.2m people worldwide was set up in California in 1977 by Werner Erhard a former used car and encyclopedia salesman who had earlier developed a controversial 'personal awareness' system called Erhard Seminars Training, EST which has been described as a 'cult'.
In America people joining the Hunger Project as volunteers are encouraged to undergo EST therapy. American psychologists who studied people who have attended the intensive two day induction to the therapy say that people are prone to develop 'psychotic symptoms including grandiosity, paranoia, uncontrollable mood swings and delusions. '
Four years ago the Government's Overseas Development Administration requested a confidential assessment of the Hunger Project by the British Embassy in Washington. The assessment pointed to a link between the project and the profit making EST Foundation. It stated: 'The Hunger Project was established and initially funded by EST and the EST foundation. EST is a profit making entity established by Werner Erhard which conducts training sessions for 'self-awareness' and 'personal transformation'. EST is controversial for its use of methods to break down personal defences, such as depriving trainees of sleep and not allowing them to use toilet facilities during seminars.