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Canada Sets Academic Philanthropy Record

Tom Burroughes, Group Editor , February 14, 2019


A Canadian business tycoon has added to the list of record-breaking philanthropic gifts to academic institutions in recent months, and explains why philanthropy remains a fertile area of wealth advice.

Another record has been set in the philanthropy world with a Canadian couple gifting C$200 million ($151.11 million) to the country’s McGill University. The donation adds to a number of recent major gifts to academic institutions in North America and other regions.

John and Marcy McCall MacBain have created the McCall MacBain Scholarships at McGill. 

John H McCall MacBain, a Canadian citizen, founded the McCall MacBain Foundation and Pamoja Capital SA, its investment arm.

“The McCall MacBain Scholarships at McGill will provide outstanding students from Canada and internationally with the opportunity to pursue a master's or professional degree, combined with a world-class enrichment program,” McGill said in a statement yesterday. “In addition to full funding to cover tuition and fees plus a living stipend, scholars will benefit from mentorship and immersive learning experiences including retreats, workshops and internships. It will be the most generous and comprehensive graduate scholarship to exist at this level in Canada.”

The gift comes weeks after media tycoon and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg donated $1.8 billion to John Hopkins University in the US. Family Wealth Report has covered issues concerning big gifts to academic institutions

Benefactors gave a record $46.7 billion to US colleges and universities in the 2018 financial year, highlighting how education is a major destination for high net worth and ultra-HNW philanthropy. Giving increased by 7.2 per cent in the 2018 financial year, the ninth straight year of such gains, according to the Council for Advancement and Support of Education’s Voluntary Support of Education survey. (For most schools their financial year ends on June 30.)

The couple said they wanted to fill a gap in Canadian higher education: “there is currently no comprehensive, leadership-driven scholarship in the country for master's and professional degree students”. 

"As graduates of Canada's publicly-funded university system, Marcy and I know first-hand how universities like McGill can reduce social barriers and foster talent at the highest of levels," said Mr McCall MacBain. "I received my undergraduate degree as a scholarship student from McGill and it truly changed my trajectory. We are confident that with its combination of academic excellence and global reach, McGill is the institution where even more exceptional students can realize the aspirations they have for themselves and the welfare of others."

Applications will open in the fall of 2020 to students from across Canada for the inaugural class. McCall MacBain Scholars will begin their studies at McGill in the fall of 2021. The Scholarships will be expanded to include international students in the third year of operation. Within five years, the Scholarships will grow to support up to 75 scholars on campus. 

Originally from Niagara Falls, Ontario, John McCall MacBain came to McGill to study economics, graduating with an honours bachelor of arts degree in 1980. During his time at McGill, he served as president of the Students Society of McGill University. In his final year, he was named valedictorian. Mr McCall MacBain subsequently obtained a law degree from the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, followed by an MBA from Harvard Business School, before launching an entrepreneurial career.

Rest of the world
These large donations are not a purely a North American phenomenon. In the UK, for example, a British ultra-high net worth hedge fund tycoon, David Harding, has broken a local record, giving £100 million ($130.2 million) to the University of Cambridge. Harding is the founder of the hedge fund business Winton. He is joined in the donation by his wife, Claudia, a trustee of the Science Museum Foundation.

Amounts involved in modern philanthropy, even allowing for inflation compared with the era of the Rockefellers, Mellons and Guggenheims, are large. In May last year 14 billionaires said that they had signed the Giving Pledge, formally joining the 154 other billionaires who have pledged to transfer at least half of their vast wealth to philanthropic causes. The Giving Pledge was started in 2010 by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett (source: CNBC, 31 May, 2017). At that time, the Gateses were worth a collective $88.5 billion, and Buffett was worth $74.2 billion.

In Asia-Pacific, Australian businessman Stan Perron, who died in November last year, reportedly left the majority of his $2.8 billion fortune to charity. Earlier in December 2018, the chairman of a Hong Kong business conglomerate donated RMB200 million ($29 million) to a Chinese university. The money from Lui Che-woo, chairman of K Wah Group and director of Lui Che Woo Charity, will be used for providing better research and teaching facilities, as well as supporting the development of medical, pharmaceutical science and other related disciplines for the university. In September 2018, Chinese e-commerce tycoon Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba and China’s richest man, said that he was retiring from the company to focus on philanthropy. Alibaba is China’s largest corporation and, with a listing on the New York Stock Exchange, is currently valued at $420 billion. (Ma started getting involved with philanthropy several years ago.)

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