A Message from Israel Asper O.C., O.M., Q.C., LL.D., Co-Founder (1932 – 2003)
(Written in July 2003) On January 23, 2003, with management succession permanently in place at CanWest Global Communications Corporation (an international communications company I had launched), I relinquished my full time office as Executive Chairman of the Board to turn to my personal agenda, which I have yet to complete. A large part of this agenda is to oversee the important work that The Asper Foundation has done and will continue to do.
This marks the 20th anniversary of The Asper Foundation. When I look back to the intent of my foundation and some of its goals in the last 20 years, much has been accomplished. For example, I wanted to leave a permanent and significant endowment in the name of the University of Manitoba Law School. This was established three years ago through the Asper International Chair in Business and Trade Law and the Asper School of Business. I had also wished to make a significant gift to Winnipeg’s St. Boniface General Hospital or its Research Foundation and this was accomplished as well. The fundamental purpose of The Asper Foundation is the support and encouragement of projects in Winnipeg and the Jewish community, and Jewish causes within Canada and Israel.
To this end, we have supported the creation of The Asper Jewish Community Campus in Winnipeg and created the Hebrew University Scholarship Program which has been in place for almost 20 years, which has now been expanded into a national scholarship program. We have also made significant donations to the Hebrew University to establish the Asper Centre for Entrepreneurship in Jerusalem modeled after our similar highly successful program here in Winnipeg at the University of Manitoba. The Community Action Centres, which have now been established in Beer Sheva, Israel and another one being developed in Ofakim, Israel, will provide badly needed education support to disadvantaged youth in that country.
On April 17th, 2003, on the 21st anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I, along with our federal and provincial governments and the City of Winnipeg partners, announced the potential creation of a groundbreaking $270 million Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
This will be the largest human rights museum in the world and I am proud to have it located in my hometown of Winnipeg. This initiative sprung out of our continuing program in Human Rights and Holocaust Studies, with which over 3,000 students from across Canada have participated.
Recently, we have also announced a donation of $1 million to Yad Vashem in Israel to create the Asper International Holocaust Studies Program. Some of my other objectives, which have now been accomplished, include supporting the University of Manitoba and making its business school one of the best in Canada. We did this through a $10 million donation and a $1 million donation to the Asper Centre for Entrepreneurship.
Culturally speaking, we have created The Lyric, an outdoor stage in Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park, and delivered a Jazz Series and a Lecture Series to bring world-class performances and lectures to the citizens of Winnipeg.
As a guideline for my foundation, I have articulated that we specialize in just a few areas so that its effect will be meaningful and will make a difference. This has been the guiding principle of everything that The Asper Foundation has done and will continue to do in the future.
When I first established The Asper Foundation in 1983, I gathered my three children together for a family meeting. They were all then in their twenties and none had joined the business at that point. We sat down in my boardroom at home and I told them that I just incorporated a new foundation. This new foundation was to be treated as the 4th Asper sibling and all four siblings would inherit the family assets equally. I advised them that it was my strongest desire that they work together to carry out the objectives of the foundation. This would be their opportunity to do something useful with their lives and make a difference.
Today, over the last several years, between the Asper and CanWest Global foundations, we have donated in excess of $103 million.
Some of our future plans call for significant programs in two or three chosen arenas such as human rights, Holocaust education and Jewish civilization.
As in the past, we will create value through and with others. Our strategy has always been to select the best projects that will make a difference, signal other funders to support our projects and demand accountability from our recipients.
I intend to bring the same level of devotion as I have in my business, political and law career to my next career, which is philanthropy.
As a wise person once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
Please click here for the biography of Israel Asper.