Iron ore magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest and his wife Nicola have made what is believed to be one of the biggest ever philanthropic donations in Australia’s history.
Forrest has already made the donation of $65 million to the University of Western Australia for the establishment of the Forrest Foundation, which will see the provision of funds for 25 student scholarships and six postdoctoral researchers.
The Forrest Foundation will be responsible for management of the funds and the selection of candidates, with specific research areas expected to include engineering, science, business and the humanities.
The $65 million bequest is believed to be one of the single largest philanthropic donations in Australia’s history, while Louise Walsh, chief executive of Philanthropy Australia, has confirmed that it is “certainly the biggest single cash gift in Australian history by an Australian.”
While three Queensland institutions received a donation of $102.5 million in 2009, that donation was made by Chuck Feeney, a US national who made his fortune with the Duty Free Shoppers Group prior to turning globe-trotting philanthropist.
Forrest, whose family has deep roots in Western Australian and whose great-great uncle was the state’s first premier, says he hopes the funds can be used to make the University of WA a world-class centre of higher learning.
“I’d like to see the University of Western Australia and the other four or five universities in Western Australia really excel through having some of the greatest minds in the world attracted to it,” said Forrest to ABC News.
According to Forrest the decision to donate so much of his wealth was made jointly with his wife Nicola following consultation with the rest of the immediate family.
“The kids really took a view with Nicola and myself that they were happy for us to work in the most productive way possible to make the hard-won capital which we’ve accumulated put to the very best use,” he said.
Earlier this year Andrew and Nicola Forrest became the first Australians to join The Giving Pledge campaign, launched by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates in 2010, under which billionaires pledge to donate at least half of their fortunes to charity.
While his personal largesse is undeniable, Forrest has long been a polarizing figure in the Australian mining sector, with many investors still harbouring grievances against him for troubles during his tenure at the head of nickel explorer Anaconda Nickel.
Forrest was eventually ousted from the position of Anaconda chief executive in 2001 at the behest of key investor Anglo American, but subsequently managed to engineer a stunning reversal of fortunes, transforming flagship company Fortescue Metals the world’s fourth largest iron-ore producer in just the past decade on the back of Chinese demand.
Forrest’s personal fortune was estimated by BRW Magazine to be $3.66 billion in May, making him Australia’s ninth richest person, while he made $100 million in the 2013 financial year alone from dividends reaped as the majority shareholder in Fortescue Metals.