A discussion with philanthropist Dr. Dan Andreae on risk, reward and his philosophy around charitable giving.
Q) You have a very distinctive way of providing support that could be considered quite entrepreneurial. Why is that?
To me, providing a hand up rather than a hand out makes the most sense. I’m an educator and social worker by training, so I look at the human and practical side of things. I’m also all too aware of the business and financial aspects that make a difference to the success of a project or an organization. Positive, measurable outcomes, sustainability and return on investment are key, regardless of the mandate of the organization.
In many cases, I’m not the sole funder of an initiative. What makes sense for me is to take on a specific project or a smaller piece of a larger endeavour. Being personally passionate about the cause is also vital. I find it extremely exciting to see people pursuing their dreams and putting their hearts into worthwhile ventures they believe in that will make a difference.
Taking a calculated risk on both individuals and groundbreaking organizations is part of what I do. But, accountability for everyone to meet short-term and long-term results is necessary.
And, we all have to make sure that any kind of funding or donation given is used wisely. Even if mistakes are made, we need to learn from them.
Q. To protect your investment, so to speak, you try to stay somewhat involved. How does that work?
As a funder, I feel it’s my job to stay on top of the work being done. Keeping up-to-date in the specific field where the work is being done, albeit at arms length is, I believe, somewhat of a responsibility for me.
I enjoy being part of the team who is committed to the success of the venture. That’s often quite invigorating depending on which stage we are at. And, I do what I can to mentor, connect, share ideas and generally provide ongoing motivation and enthusiasm for young people entering the profession.
Q. So you’re a little like a venture capitalist, but instead of looking for financial return, you’re looking to create a social impact and results.
Yes, I suppose so. I like to support others who are thinking outside of the box. In some cases, that means partnering with a larger organization or making an initial small investment in the early stages of a project where others might fear to tread. Once they’ve had some successes, or growth, I become more confident and so do others, which helps us to attract more donations from corporations and other foundations.
A good example is the work being done as a result of our fellowship funding to Dr. Allan Slomovic, a leading eye surgeon and researcher at Toronto Western Hospital and Kensington Eye Institute. With the funding, Dr. Slomovic has been able to expand his research on the use of stem cells in the treatment and cure of corneal diseases.
And then there’s the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at the University Health Network, where our family has created nursing fellowships to promote more effective interdisciplinary bedside care.
I’ve also taken great pride in having funded Canada Cares through the Canadian Abilities Foundation to help raise the profile of both professional and family caregivers from across Canada who are doing amazing things and deserve to be recognized. Plus, I’ve recently become involved with the world-renowned Weismann Institute of Science where I will be sponsoring annual neuroscience lectures to bring researchers from around the world together with the goal of launching collaborations that will hopefully lead to better technologies, treatments, and cures.
Q. Charitable giving. What is that all about for you?
Firstly, I should say that for me charitable giving is as much about the sharing of one’s time and expertise as it is about providing financial resources. This is an important part of my life. There are so many worthy and deserving causes that I could support but, like others, I choose to focus on sectors that resonate with my interests, have a benefit to humanity, are creative in their approaches and have potential to grow. So, my primary areas of giving revolve around education, health and the brain.
Many, many generous people give hours and hours of their time, day in and day out in a variety of different ways, which, I really believe, is equally, if not more, important. After all, it’s because of the tireless work of grassroots volunteers that many fundraising events and capital campaigns are successful.
Q. What about the next generation and their interest and capacity to be philanthropic. What do you think?
As far as young people are concerned today, we’re living in a different, more materialistic time where it is easy to get swept up in the stress of our multi-media, fast-paced world. Often they’ve not been exposed to or taught a lot about the importance of giving back and how to do it.
What I try to do with the students I teach and the young people whom I mentor is open their eyes and help them to see another perspective. If I can raise their awareness bit by bit and help them to discover what’s meaningful for them and for others, we can start to bridge the gap and they’ll see their way to getting involved.
After all, helping out is quite a rewarding way to make new connections and let your hidden talents shine.