Big Philanthropy - Andrew Brice AM and Graeme Wood AM

5 May 2015

Andrew Brice AM and Graeme Wood AM are renowned not only for their business acumen, having founded accommodation booking website, but also as early pioneers of large-scale university philanthropy in Australia, having invested around $18 million in a public ancillary fund designed to support UQ in 2008.

Considered to be the largest alumni donation to a higher education institution in Australia at the time, the gift helped to establish UQef, which, in turn, has funded world-leading research and helped students and Australian youths reach their potential though the provision of scholarships and mentoring programs.

Since then, Australian universities have received mega gifts from philanthropists who have followed in the footsteps of Wood and Brice, donating to universities to address major issues that transcend generations. This trend reflects a “big picture” mentality of achieving outcomes through learning, teaching and research.

“We want to enact positive change, but we don’t want to be part of a select few in pioneering big philanthropy in Australia. Through collective action, we can achieve substantial social change.”  Graeme Wood AM

Across Australian states and territories, some of our most innovative and dynamic thinkers who have achieved success after university are embodying the idea of giving back. This is a sentiment that is widely recognised internationally, particularly in the United States.

In 2013, mining magnate Andrew Forrest and his wife Nicola made a $65 million donation to five universities in Western Australia, while commodity trader Graham Tuckwell and his wife Louise made a similar donation of $50 million to Australian National University.

Engineering services entrepreneur John Grill has donated $20 million to The University of Sydney, while top commercial lawyer Allan Myers and his wife Maria have supported The University of Melbourne with a $10 million gift.

Greg Poche AO and his wife Kay van Norton Poche have given over $100 million nationally to establish Poche Centres for Indigenous Health at six leading Australian universities, including a centre launched at UQ in March (see page 12). 

Wood, Andrew Brice and Jennifer Brice have continued to give to the University, with Wood donating a further $15 million to fund the Global Change Institute (see page 22), which aims to address the impacts of climate change, technological innovation and population growth through programs focused on clean energy, food systems, healthy oceans and sustainable water.

The Brices, who are both graduates of UQ — Andrew having completed a Bachelor of Commerce in 1965 while Jennifer finished a Bachelor of Arts in 1996 — are equally passionate about leading the cause to support education in Australia, with their family’s stated purpose to “advance human capital”.

“I think today, more and more people are donating to universities in an effort to advance human capital: giving opportunities to kids who are just like they were and investing in research that addresses serious, intergenerational issues,” said Mr Brice.

“The more people who earn a university degree, the better off universities and society will be.”

“At US universities, the idea of giving back is so entrenched within the institution; however, in Australia, it’s not something most students consider.

“That’s something Andrew, Graeme and I are trying to teach and promote as well,” added Mrs Brice.

Through UQef, Wood’s abiding interest in youth is evident in the support of researchers at the Centre for Youth Substance Abuse Research, which is delivering early intervention initiatives and drug and alcohol services for Australian youths.

A similar interest in tackling disadvantage has seen financial support for tertiary education offered to youths through the Young Achievers Program (see page 34). This is an initiative close to the hearts
of the Brices, who continue to donate a considerable amount of personal time to the program.

Tackling disadvantage in its varied forms has underpinned the entrepreneurs’ diverse philanthropic efforts. For Mr and Mrs Brice, personal experience has been integral in shaping their approach to philanthropy.

“I thought we were extremely fortunate in that we have four happy, healthy children, who have all gone on to become university graduates,” she said.

“That stroke of fortune was a major motivating factor in helping other children who may want to go to university, but might not necessarily be able to clearly see a path to do so.”

The Australian Government acknowledges education as a “foundation capability” in reducing the likelihood people will experience deep and persistent disadvantage. Authors of a recent report concluded: “It improves a person’s employment prospects and earning capacity, and the evidence points to a relationship between education and better health and raised civic and social engagement.”

However, awareness of education as a variable affecting disadvantage is just part of piecing together the puzzle.

“We want to enact positive change, but we don’t want to be part of a select few in pioneering big philanthropy in Australia. Through collective action, we can achieve substantial social change,” said Wood.