The Myer Foundation – A Tradition of Giving
Wednesday, 26th May 2004 at 1:05 pm
A new book tracing 75 years of the philanthropic activities of the Victorian-based Myer Foundation describes the history of private philanthropy in Australia as having a limited tradition with the Myer family being an honourable exception.
And according to author and former Myer Foundation Executive Officer, Michael Liffman, it’s the only charitable foundation to have four generations of family involvement in ‘giving’ in this country.
Liffman who is currently the founding Director of the Asia-Pacific Centre for Philanthropy at Swinburne University in Melbourne says the challenge in writing the book was to objectively reveal the tradition of giving while having a very close relationship with the organisation for over 15 years.
Liffman says there are many reasons why the Myer family members, led by Russian immigrant, Sidney Myer who sold beads in Bendigo and went on to become a retail giant, are stand out philanthropists.
He says the sheer scale of giving over 75 years plus the diversity and willingness to strike out and be entrepreneurial in their approach to giving has led the way for many other foundations to follow.
He says from the many thousands of small grants to the many iconic institutions such as the Myer Music Bowl, the Howard Florey Institute and the Asia Link Centre at Melbourne University it helped establish, the foundation has grown in influence.
He says the Myer Foundation was one of the first in Australia to place its philanthropic activities on a professional scale, employing Marial Wilmot in the 1960’s to manage its operations and assess projects, providing assistance to trustees and their decision making.
There have been two biographies written about the life of Sidney Myer. Michael Liffman’s book however was commissioned to tell the philanthropic story.
The book relates Sidney Myer’s classic ‘rags to riches’ story. His generosity was epitomised by the legendary Christmas lunch he staged at the Melbourne Exhibition Building for 11, 000 hungry souls hard hit by the depression.
As unemployment worsened Sidney Myer increased the staff in his stores and supported numerous building ventures, in order to provide employment. His sons, Ken and Baillieu, continued their father’s tradition and with the help of other family members, established The Myer Foundation.
The Foundation has contributed to the production of music, dance, and theatre; it has encouraged and supported scholars, artists, and professionals; and has significantly supported minority and welfare groups.
Liffman says it is more than a history of one family. It is a celebration of a ‘tradition of giving’ which has become part of the fabric of the Australian community.
The book, A tradition of Giving, is published by Melbourne University Press and is available for $49.95. Pro Bono Australia readers are offered a $5 discount on orders placed through the Asia- Pacific Centre for Philanthropy and Social Investment at Swinburne University by sending an email directly to firstname.lastname@example.org.