Forrest’s Generous Gesture Sparks Frenzy Among Rich Listers, Rewriting the Rules of Philanthropy

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Breaking the mould of traditional philanthropy, Forrest’s remarkable generosity sets off a whirlwind of excitement among billionaires, challenging the status quo and reshaping the giving landscape.

According to a respected philanthropy advisor, Andrew and Nicola Forrest’s donation of $5 billion to their Minderoo Foundation, the most considerable individual charitable contribution in Australian history, is poised to inspire other billionaires.

The announcement of the transfer of shares from Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group to Minderoo overshadowed healthcare mogul Paul Ramsay’s $3.3 billion bequest to his eponymous foundation upon his passing in 2014.

Fortescue’s Billion-Dollar Boost: Forrests’ Unleash Charity Tsunami, Redefining Philanthropy with Minderoo’s Multi-Priority Programs

The Forrests have generously donated $7.6 billion in Fortescue shares to Minderoo, which collaborates with various charitable organisations to develop programs addressing 11 key priorities, from cancer research to eradicating slavery.

“As our world grapples with significant challenges, we have chosen to continue utilising our material wealth to support humanity and the environment in confronting these existential risks,” Mr Forrest shared. 

While Dr Forrest’s $5 billion contribution secures his position as the leading individual donor in Australia, it will likely affect his standing on the Australian Financial Review Rich List.

This substantial donation, representing one-fifth of the Forrests’ Fortescue holdings, is a direct result of the couple becoming the first Australian signatories to The Giving Pledge, an initiative launched in 2010 by Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Melinda French Gates.

The Giving Pledge encourages fellow billionaires to publicly commit to donating over half of their wealth to philanthropy, either during their lifetime or through their wills.

“I have engaged in numerous discussions with affluent individuals regarding philanthropy, and they often struggle to determine the appropriate amount to contribute,” said John McLeod, a senior research consultant at JBWere Philanthropic Services.

“Hence, witnessing the actions of others serves as encouragement, and initiatives like The Giving Pledge provide a valuable benchmark.”

Following the Forrests’ endorsement of The Giving Pledge in 2013, pokie billionaire Len Ainsworth followed suit in 2017, and Canva founders Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obrecht in 2021.

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The grants they generously provided in 2021-22 amount to $1.1 billion, more than double the figure since Mr McLeod’s initial list in 2017. This increase occurred amidst a period of stagnant median donations to charity by Australian households due to the impact of COVID-19 and cost-of-living pressures.

According to Mr McLeod, billionaires view each other as peers, and as philanthropy has become more visible, this peer pressure has become a significant driving force.

Mr McLeod mentioned that these billionaires are purpose-driven individuals who made their fortunes through their pursuits, so the desire to be the wealthiest in the graveyard has never appealed to many.

As wealthy Australians have increased their philanthropic endeavours, the scope of their giving has broadened, as noted by Mr McLeod.

He stated, “A few years ago, the recipients were mainly universities, medical research, and the arts also received substantial support. While those causes continue to be well-supported, we are now seeing a focus on addressing some of society’s more pressing issues.”

For example, Minderoo and the Paul Ramsay Foundation, Australia’s two most significant philanthropic funds, now prioritise mitigating the impacts of climate change.

From Text Messages to Political Training, Philanthropy Takes Surprising Turns

Additionally, the fifth-largest charitable fund, the Susan McKinnon Foundation, with $530 million, takes an unconventional approach. It is named after Grant Rule’s civic-minded mother, who sold her text message marketing company, MessageMedia, for $1.7 billion in 2021. 

Mr McLeod highlighted that the foundation allocated $31 million last year to train politicians across the political spectrum to enhance government effectiveness.

He stated, “More entrepreneurs are now expressing their desire to make substantial investments and bring about significant societal changes, rather than merely addressing existing problems.”

Despite ranking second on the Rich List with an estimated wealth of just under $34 billion before the announcement, Mr Forrest’s net worth is expected to decline to around $29 billion, as the assets of Minderoo are not attributed to the couple, despite their two board seats on the foundation.

In contrast, the philanthropic donations of Gina Rinehart, who tops the 2023 Rich List with $37.4 billion, have a lesser impact on her estimated wealth since she contributes some of them directly through her company, Hancock Prospecting. 

However, information about her primary charitable vehicle, the Georgina Hope Foundation, is unavailable in the government’s national register for non-profit organisations. 

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