The Asper Family: A History of Giving
The Asper Foundation (a private family foundation) and the CanWest Global Foundation (the corporate foundation of CanWest Global Communications Corp.) have undertaken and developed major initiatives locally, nationally and internationally supporting the areas of Jewish causes, arts and culture, community development, human rights, literacy and education, journalism and communication studies, media and healthcare. In the recent past, over $125 million has been donated to various charitable causes through these two foundations.
In April 2003, The Asper Foundation, in joint partnership with the Government of Canada, Province of Manitoba, City of Winnipeg and The Forks North Portage Partnership, announced the establishment of The Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, Canada. The Asper Foundation donated $24 million and was the driving force behind the creation of a distinctive, architecturally exceptional Museum that will help to eliminate intolerance through recognition of human rights as the foundation for human equality, dignity and freedom worldwide. A major component of the Museum will be a national student program that will sponsor 20,000 high school students and their chaperones from across Canada to visit the Museum each year. In 2008, Bill C48 was passed unanimously in Parliament establishing the Museum as a National Federal Museum, the fifth National museum and the first to be established outside of the National Capital Region. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights opened on September 20, 2014.
Other major Winnipeg projects supported by The Asper Foundation in the last few years have been $10 million donations to each of the Winnipeg Foundation and the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba and developments including the I. H. Asper Clinical Research Institute at St. Boniface General Hospital, I. H. Asper School of Business, the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances Series, The Asper Foundation Lecture Series, the Asper Jewish Community Campus, the Lyric outdoor theatre at Assiniboine Park, the Asper Helping Hand Initiative as well as the former Asper Centre for Entrepreneurship at the University of Manitoba (now the Stu Clark Centre for Entrepreneurship). The Asper Foundation is particularly proud of its Human Rights and Holocaust Studies Program for students. Since 1997, over 14,000 students and chaperones from all backgrounds from over 200 communities across Canada have participated in this initiative.
Projects supported in Israel by The Asper Foundation include the Menachem Begin Heritage Centre, the Asper International Holocaust Studies Program at Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies, the Asper Centre for Entrepreneurship at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Winnipeg Community Action Centre in Beer Sheva, the Israel Asper Community Action Centres in Ofakim, Migdal Haemek and Ramot, the Edible Garden project and the World’s Jewish Museum.
The CanWest Global Foundation (“Canwest”) was established in 1997 with an initial contribution of $1 million from Canwest Global Communications Corp. The foundation focuses its support primarily in the areas of the arts, media, literacy, journalism and communication studies across Canada. CanWest Global Communications Corp., while under the leadership and control of the Asper family, had a long history of community involvement, offering both cash donations and in-kind support to local non-profit and charitable organizations via its television stations and newspaper holdings across the country. The CanWest head office and its operating units were also strong supporters of the United Way, not only giving corporate donations but also encouraging all employees to give generously.
CanWest supports post secondary education through contributions to the University of Manitoba and the CanWest Global Multimedia Classroom and Studio at Winnipeg’s Red River College, and has contributed several million dollars to numerous other post secondary institutions across Canada in the area of journalism.
In the arts sector, the foundation was a long-time supporter of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and Winnipeg arts institutions such as Manitoba Theatre Centre, Rainbow Stage, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Manitoba Opera and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, among many others. Arts festivals such as the Winnipeg Folk Festival, the Jazz Winnipeg Festival, the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival and Atlantic Theatre Festival were among many other events receiving support.
The foundation’s innovative and award-winning Raise-A-Reader Program is a national fundraising and public awareness initiative in support of children’s literacy.
Through its two foundations, the Asper family has demonstrated its commitment to the community in which it lives and does business. At the heart of these foundations is the philosophy of its founder that insists that one has to give back to society and that one should, while still alive, enjoy seeing the benefits of their giving.
In addition, each of the three children, David, Gail and Leonard, along with their spouses, have recently established their own significant foundations which collectively have contributed several million dollars to their communities.