A Message from Leonard Asper, Chair and Trustee
In 1983 Israel Asper created The Asper Foundation, the entity through which his and his wife Babs’ long history of philanthropy would henceforth be channeled. He did this for a very specific purpose. He observed that wealthy individuals who supported so many important causes can fall on hard times, and their philanthropic efforts vanish, leaving the beneficiaries without support when it was most needed.
A foundation is an important idea. It is impervious to the whims or fortunes of its benefactors, and its capital is permanent. As foundations grow, the income available to distribute grows, and their contribution to society spreads. Private individuals through foundations are an increasing part of helping to improve the human condition alongside the governments.
We are very proud that we can play a role in caring for others and improving the quality of peoples’ lives.
The Asper Foundation has some unique qualities that stem from the values and experiences of its Founders, which have now survived three generations.
Our focus on Winnipeg is based on a debt of gratitude to a city that offered our Founders the opportunity to obtain an education and pursue careers in a free, non-discriminatory society. No matter where the family lives in the future, it was Winnipeg that gave to us, and that will never be forgotten.
The concept of civil liberties and equality were so important to Israel Asper that as a serving Member he introduced the first Bill of Rights to the Manitoba Legislature in the early 1970s, long before there was a Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada, something he also personally was involved in advancing. His idea to create the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the insistence that it be in Winnipeg is the culmination of a lifetime of commitment to the belief in true equality and a permanent family value that continues to manifest itself in other projects we initiate.
Our connection to supporting Canada stems from the same appreciation of this country’s fertile democracy and caring population.
Our commitment to Israel and the Jewish people is based on three beliefs. First, pure loyalty to one’s own. Second, as a practical matter, given we are a minority people spread out and amongst various countries and to survive and maintain our identity, we must always have a healthy and vibrant community with robust institutions. Third, the stark historical reality that a strong Israel is important to ensure peace, security and religious freedom for all Jews whether they choose to live in Israel or not.
Finally, a significant part of our philosophy is that the world at large is our responsibility too. The Jewish faith developed the notion of Tikkun Olam, or “mending the world”, as one of its most important values. Supporting the broader community in areas including health, education, arts, economic well-being, human rights and self-development is vital to improve the overall quality of life of the citizenry.
Our philanthropy is focused on outcomes. We like to see the tangible changes we have made, the improvements in lives, the tears of joy, the glowing smiles, the elimination of trauma and the name on a degree or a building that wasn’t there before. We pride ourselves on working with partners to customize opportunities and reach for the stars.
We are proud of our achievements to date and as the new generation of trustees joins the Foundation we are excited to continue playing our part in mending the world and improving the human condition.