Australia’s most generous giver, Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest, was in Singapore earlier this month when he and his wife Nicola announced that they had donated an additional A$655 million ($460 million) to their Minderoo Foundation. Their most recent gift brings the couple’s total charitable outlay to A$1.5 billion ($1.05 billion).
Although the mining magnate’s visit was for the purpose of promoting Global Rapid Rugby, a fast-paced pan-Asian form of the sport, Forrest also chose to make the news of his donation public in Singapore as something of a challenge and rallying cry to the wealthy of Asia. He says the region’s most fortunate—including his fellow Australians—need to raise their philanthropic game.
Once Australia's richest man, Forrest’s net worth peaked at $12.7 billion in 2008 when shares of his Fortescue Metals Group reached an all-time high. His current net worth is estimated at $7.5 billion, and he’s already told his three children that they won’t be inheriting that immense fortune because he wants to give it away.
In a recent interview, Forrest explained why and how he believes Asia’s wealthy can employ their resources and skills for the greater good.
Christian Barker: What do your children—daughters Grace, 25, Sophia, 24, and son Sydney, 19—think about the fact that the generous inheritances they might’ve each received will instead go to charitable causes?
Andrew Forrest: Our kids feel zero entitlement to their parents’ wealth. We have encouraged that from a very early age. At a certain point, we got together as a family and said, “Look, wealth can really make people miserable. You know that it actually is no guarantee of success in life. It’s no guarantee of happiness or joy or satisfaction in life. But the accumulation of your own wealth, of your own achievements, that’s different. Maybe it will not be marked in money, it could be just marked by the things that you’ve done for others, or the things you’ve done in your own career, it might not reflect itself in capital — generally it doesn’t. But when you achieve something yourself, you feel that inner satisfaction.”
We asked our children, “How would you feel if we give away the wealth we’ve made, to causes that really, desperately need it? You kids aren’t going to starve. You’ll still inherit personal effects and things. But this huge rump of wealth, let’s put it to hard work. Do you kids agree that’s a good idea or not? Let’s have it out.” And they all agreed.
You’ve announced your latest bequest while in Singapore to encourage the wealthy of this region to be more generous. Why do you think Asia’s richest have yet to heed the call to be more philanthropic?
Across Asia, including Australia, there’s a defensive mindset (among the wealthy). It's a mindset that that you made it all, so you could lose it all, so you should really hang on to it. Actually, we live in a civilized world where laws are enforceable and reliable, and it's not going to get taken off you. But the way you should share it is by giving it away—and not randomly … The skill you have, which allowed you to accumulate that capital, you should use that skill to distribute capital in the wisest, highest leverage, highest benefit way possible.
Why do you need to appeal to others when your own giving has been so generous? Doesn’t the Minderoo Foundation have enough funding already?
Nicola and I realize that we can’t do anything on our own, we can’t achieve diddley-squat as Lone Rangers. We need to collaborate… Together, we can address and stop, once and for all, plastic going into the ocean. We can be the generation that saves the world’s oceans, rather than the generation that ruined them for all time. We can be the generation that eliminates the scourge of modern slavery.
Within a few short years, a third to half of the world’s billionaires will be located here in Asia. And to all these newly minted billionaires, we’re saying, let’s band together and let’s not repeat the mistakes of Australia, where we haven’t been entirely philanthropic. Whether Thai, Indonesian, Singaporean, Chinese or Australian, we’re all Asian, despite our idiosyncrasies and cultural quirks.
How would you respond to those who’d suggest that philanthropy is all well and good, but perhaps wealthy individuals should just pay their fair share of tax and let government take care of society’s ills?
I’d say that is moronic—at its kindest. The greatest waste has happened under political leaders who say that. I’ve seen train wrecks created by politicians who’ve said, “Actually, we should just pay more tax.” My response is, “Well, can you show me what you achieved with everyone else’s money, once you got your hands on it in the past?” Answer: a train wreck. To those who’d suggest, ‘Oh, you should just pay more tax’ — I’d say, “What, so politicians can waste more of it?”
Criticism of wasteful spending aside, what’s your take on the current Australian political landscape? You’ve held fundraisers for both major parties in the lead-up to this week’s Australian federal election. What policies or attitudes would you like to see adopted by the winners?
They say we change our prime ministers like our underpants. Everyone in Australia thinks the country’s politics are all froth and bubbles, it’s a bit of a disaster. In fact, it isn’t—the system is serving the Australian people. We have a very high standard of living… But we are, I think, shortsighted—and this is true for all parties. We have to make harder decisions for the longer term in our country, but all of the parties are guilty of taking a shorter-term position to win a populist vote.
I’m frustrated when I see the bilateral relationship between Australia and China threatened by short-term comments in Chinese newspapers or by populist politicians in Australia. That bilateral relationship is critical to China and it is critical to Australia. There's no room for arrogance in foreign affairs. We should be leading on humility and courage and building stronger relationships.
Why do you believe soccer-mad Asia is ready to embrace the new football code you’re backing, Global Rapid Rugby, which launches in earnest next year?
The teamwork and camaraderie inherent to a sport like rugby exemplifies that sense of community and family, which is so very Asian. This game not only has that sense of camaraderie, but takes great tactics, great teamwork and great athleticism. That is going to be very, very popular in Asia. Asia won’t cop games that stop and start for a long time — what Asia loves is action, speed, skill, teamwork, collaboration, strategy. These are the things that you get in a great game of Rapid Rugby.