Charitable leaders emerging

10/12/2008 - 22:00

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JUST a decade ago, philanthropy was nearly invisible in Western Australia.

Charitable leaders emerging

JUST a decade ago, philanthropy was nearly invisible in Western Australia.

The state was still wrestling with its entrepreneurial past and anything that looked too much like a show of wealth, especially among those who actually had it, was avoided like the plague.

But times have changed. With another boom having come and gone, many of those who benefitted the most from the dramatic recent growth have questioned whether the riches from resources will deliver lasting benefits.

There is a clear mood in philanthropic circles that it is no longer just about giving; they must also be seen to be giving.

The result is a shift into the public arena. WA's philanthropists are more often lending their name to the causes they support, believing that it is only through such leadership that WA will match the generosity of the east coast's high net worth individuals, let alone that of the US where it is a well-known practice.

This has shown itself in a number of ways.

There has been an increasing number of foundations created by the wealthy devoted to special causes. More importantly, many of the longest-established are prepared to be more public in what they do.

The successful are also prepared to give publically to major causes and engage in the public relations associated with that.

And there is a recent push to create a WA umbrella organisation that would assist those entering the world of philanthropy to direct their funds most effectively and efficiently.

Businessman John Poynton has been one of those behind the idea of creating a Perth-based philanthropic hub or portal.

Seeing the wealth creation in WA, without the sophistication in philanthropy that other wealthy communities have, Mr Poynton personally convened a meeting of some of WA's biggest donors and recipients to give the concept impetus.

He strongly believes the emergence of philanthropists from the shadows is a good thing.

"Is it big-noting or simply trying to encourage others, a sort of tribal leadership?" Mr Poynton said.

As a major recipient of private funding, WA Institute of Medical Research director Peter Klinken agrees that leadership is an important element in philanthropy, not just to raise money but to give their valuable time and open doors. In doing so, they invite others to follow them.

"That is critical, that is where I talk about leadership," Professor Klinken said.

"It is the individuals who do actually have financial wealth that encourage others to do philanthropic things.

"I get a sense that there is a growing feeling for that in Perth.

"Perhaps as a society we are growing up a bit. Money has to be used for something. What sort of society do we want to live in?"

Professor Klinken said he believed the lack of intergenerational wealth in WA had contributed to the sector being less mature than elsewhere.

"It also needs leadership," he said.

"You need families involved that want to bring other people along with them."

Of course, it's more than just the lack of dynastic wealth in WA, or Australia for that matter, which puts us well behind places like the US in the giving stakes.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates has become one of the world's best-known philanthropists based on the fortune created by the software business he started.

The US has a culture of giving, probably kick-started by competitive rivalry with the old world of Europe, nurtured by tax laws and a general political opposition to welfare.

In highly taxed Australia, the general feeling is that we pay enough, and the state should deal with the problems.

Unfortunately, that presumes tax funding alone will be enough to develop our society and that the state knows best where to spend the money.

It also presumes that current levels of private giving will be maintained. Yet there is evidence that it is not.

A study by The Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies, part of the Queensland University of Technology, found that while giving by Australia's affluent had risen in the recent years, it had not kept pace with actual levels of wealth creation.

Released in March, the study, entitled 'Good Times and Philanthropy: Giving By Australia's Affluent', covered a time of extraordinary growth in Australia, coupled with significant tax cuts.

It is also unfair to ignore those who do give. Andrew Forrest has been generous with his money, started a charity, launched a national bid to solve indigenous unemployment and stated that his money would not be passed on to his children.

Resources developer Clive Palmer has pledged $100 million from his company to establish a new foundation for medical research in WA and for support of indigenous communities in the Pilbara.

Others in WA have been giving for a long time. Sir James McCusker's generosity to medical causes was channelled into the The McCusker Foundation for Alzheimer's Disease Research Inc, which is now headed by Malcolm McCusker.

The Stan Perron Charitable Trust was established in 1978 and generously funds children's causes, notably in areas of disability and medical research. The trust has its own income but also gets a one-for-one distribution matching any funds drawn out of the trusts behind Mr Perron's considerable property, investment and care wholesaling operations.

Annie and Brettney Fogarty have also devoted a small fortune to funding education opportunities for young leaders and the underprivileged.

Mrs Fogarty has noted the mood change in philanthropic circles.

"There is good energy, there certainly was 12-18 months ago," she said, noting that the current downturn may yet have an effect on the sector.

"There is a mood to harness that energy, there is a different mindset," Mrs Fogarty said.

"When we started out we wanted to be very private.

"However, now things are going well I think it's important to talk about it and encourage others."

Telethon Institute of Child Health Research chief Fiona Stanley is another on the receiving side of the equation, having been involved in fund raising for many years.

Professor Stanley recognises that the huge wealth in WA has created an opportunity to develop the giving culture.

"I think there is hugely increased potential," she said. "That is particularly among the younger wealthy in WA who should realise it is a thrill to give their money to charity.

"Perhaps the older people have to show them the way."

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