On Nov. 22, 2000, Izzy Asper shocked everyone with twin donations: $10 million to The Winnipeg Foundation and $10 million to the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba. At the time, they were the two largest donations ever by an individual in the city. – The Winnipeg Free Press
In 2023, that gift came full circle with the amount granted to community matching the initial gift. We caught up with the Asper Foundation about the importance of generosity and Izzy Asper’s legacy.
The Winnipeg Foundation (TWF): When Izzy decided to make the gift to The Winnipeg Foundation, he also made a gift of equal size to The Jewish Foundation, at the time these were the two largest gifts to both Foundations in Winnipeg. Can you speak about what inspired him to do this? Was there a specific moment or event that ignited a commitment to giving back to community?
The Asper Foundation: Izzy and Babs Asper strongly believed that philanthropy is a driving force behind positive change in people’s quality of life. This is why they established The Asper Foundation forty years ago to build on their and The Asper family’s philanthropic objectives. It’s this belief that prompted the gifts to The Winnipeg Foundation and The Jewish Foundation. More important than a specific moment that inspired them, given the long history of strong community support from both foundations, they knew that these institutions appreciated the value of strategic giving and its powerful impact on people.
TWF: Are there any specific values or principles that guide The Asper Foundation’s philanthropic endeavors? If so, how do these principles shape their giving strategy and decision-making process when directing funds to different charitable organizations?
The Asper Foundation: The original impetus for Izzy and Babs to found The Asper Foundation was the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam, meaning to repair and improve the world, and it continues to drive the Foundation’s vision and decision-making process. The Foundation appreciates it has the capacity and responsibility to play a significant role in repairing the world and improving the quality of people’s lives, while bringing joy to them
TWF: Could you highlight some of the key areas or causes that The Asper Foundation is particularly passionate about supporting? What motivates the Foundation to invest resources in these specific areas, and what out-comes do you hope to achieve?
The Asper Foundation: The Asper Foundation is passionate about developing major projects and provides general support to the Jewish communities in Manitoba, Canada and Israel while also supporting the broader Winnipeg and Canadian communities in the areas of culture, education, the environment, health, sports, community development and human rights. The desire to focus on these areas is motivat-ed by the belief in the importance of Tikkun Olam and the desire to repair the world and improve the quality of people’s lives.
TWF: Of the many philanthropic projects The Asper Foundation has led, can you highlight one that holds special significance for it? How did this experience shape The Asper Foundation’s perspective on philanthropy and reinforce the importance of giving back?
The Asper Foundation: There is no question that the most significant philanthropic project that The Asper Foundation has led is the development of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. It was the inspiration of Izzy and came to life through the tireless work of Gail Asper and Moe Levy. The Asper Foundation gave more than $28 million towards this institution and was instrumental in completing the required fundraising from government and private funders. It was the fifth national museum to be established in Canada and the first to be developed outside of the National Capital Region. Its mandate is to explore the subject of human rights, enhance the public’s understanding of human rights, promote respect for others, and encourage reflection, dialogue, and action.
Since it opened in 2014, hundreds of thousands of people from around the world visit the Museum annually. It is one of only a few museums in the world dedicated to the subject of human rights. The feedback that the CMHR receives from visitors has consistently shown that it impacts them deeply to stand up for human rights. We’re very proud that the Museum has received over 50 national and international recognition awards.
The establishment of the Museum fundamentally shaped The Asper Foundation’s perspective on philanthropy by highlighting the importance of never giving up on a vision until it becomes reality. As well, it demonstrates that big philanthropic dreams require the contributions of many individuals, organizations, institutions, and different levels of government. We must give back as a community.
TWF: Can you describe how the tradition of generosity is passed along?
The Asper Foundation: Leading by example is the best way to pass along the tradition of generosity. It’s how the philanthropic passion of Izzy and Babs was passed on to their children, David, Gail, and Leonard, and their eight grandchildren. They embrace the responsibility of carrying out Tikkun Olam for the Jewish and general communities in Canada and Israel through the many initiatives supported by The Asper Foundation and their own individual philanthropic work.