George Alexander liked the idea of 'planting seeds and hoping that they grow into pretty big trees' and this concept underscores his Foundation's philanthropy to this day.
Throughout the 1960s George Alexander had been making donations to universities where he had taught. A meeting with Roger Darvall, one of the Governors of The Ian Potter Foundation, introduced George to the idea of using his money to build a capital base for a charitable foundation, which would ensure that the funds could keep working in perpetuity. George was inspired by this constructive idea and an arrangement was put in place for the Governors of The Ian Potter Foundation to become trustees and administrators of The George Alexander Foundation. George was pleased that his funds would be wisely managed and distributed without the need for him to get involved with the day-to-day business of its operations. His Foundation was set up with broad philanthropic aims that would allow trustees to respond to changing circumstances.
The initial gift to establish the Foundation in 1972 was $30,000. Regular gifts saw it grow to $250,000 in 1975, before reaching $1 million in 1987. His subsequent gifts, together with investment growth, saw capital rise to over $10 million during George's lifetime. It is now worth $33 million.
The first grant made by the Foundation was $700 to Mr J Bailey of Preston Institute of Technology to assist his travel to England to examine management development programs for small business owners. Initially the grants made by The George Alexander Foundation tended to supplement those made by The Ian Potter Foundation, although with a Queensland focus due to George's involvement in the Queensland community.
George was a great believer in the importance of philanthropy and always hoped that his example of giving in his lifetime would inspire others to do the same, saying, "It's not clever to hold onto it until the last minute, and I am sure you can't take it with you when you leave."
'George Alexander always held the view that you do not really own the possessions that you have, "you're just minding them". He felt that this philosophy "freed up your thinking about how you deal with money" - and this was central to the development of his philanthropy.'
- Peter Yule, biographer
When Dorothy Scott was appointed executive secretary of The George Alexander Foundation and The Ian Potter Foundation in 2001, she worked with George to reorient the guidelines of GAF to better reflect George's own interests and ensure that it had focused objectives. They agreed that GAF should 'focus solely on the environment and the education of talented young people'.
The GAF Environment program
George's years working on farms and Neta's involvement in water supply had given George awareness of environmental issues, especially around sustainable land use and restoration of degraded landscapes.
For many years GAF ran an active environmental grants program that focused on support for projects that promoted environmental education and understanding, volunteer programs and sustainable land management practices. While George would not have thought of himself a 'greenie', during his years working on the land he saw first-hand the damage done by unsustainable farming practices and poor water management, he also learned a great deal about water management through his 'Neta' hose fitting invention and business.
George was interested in supporting programs that incorporated practical, hands-on elements and the acquisition and sharing of knowledge that could inform change and improvement in environmental protection and management.
Over the years, more than $1 million has been granted to environmental projects nationally, supporting a range of organisations and projects such as the Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre's Volunteer Program to tackle problems with an introduced crab species through to a project with Bush Heritage Australia to co-ordinate a group of conservation organisations, community volunteers and local farmers, tertiary researchers and naturalists to work collaboratively to protect high conservation value land in NSW.
With the Foundation now focussed on the benefits of providing support to individuals through scholarships and fellowships, this interest in environmental projects is directed through projects such as the Earthwatch Student Challenge and The Centre for Sustainability Leadership Fellowship program.
George's interest in supporting young people's education reflects his own struggle to gain an education and his desire to focus on 'rewarding bright young kids'. Clearly defining the areas of giving ensured that the Foundation could make more substantial grants, be creative in its giving, and really make a difference.
The first major education initiative was the introduction of the George Alexander Foundation Scholarship Programs at Griffith University in Queensland and RMIT University in Victoria in 2002, marking the start of the Scholarship Program which is now the cornerstone of the Foundation's grant-making.
Today, The George Alexander Foundation works with carefully selected organisations to offer scholarships, fellowships and bursaries. The Foundation does not accept unsolicited grant applications and cannot fund individuals: all our programs are offered through partnerships with organisations, primarily universities, TAFEs and other education institutions.
Students wishing to apply for scholarships or fellowships must contact their university or institute. See which institutions are currently partnered with The George Alexander Foundation to provide scholarships and fellowships.
Source: The Life of George Alexander by Peter Yule (2006)