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Gail Asper receving the award with a representative from Investors Group, the award sponsor.


by Rhonda Spivak, Dec 1, 2017

[Editor's Note: Gail Asper O.C., O.M., LL.D., received the 2017 Outstanding Philanthropist Award from the Association for Fundraising Professionals (AFP) on Wednesday November 15, 2017 at a gala luncheon at the RBC Convention Centre. Below is her short acceptance speech as it was originally written on receiving this prestigious award, and following the speech there is an interview  the Winnipeg Jewish Review conducted with Asper that took place following the gala luncheon.]
Gail Asper's Speech on Receiving the Outstanding Philanthropist Award  from the Association of Fundraising Professionals:

Minister Cox, ladies and gentleman,

This award, coming from people I deeply respect, is very meaningful to me. Thank you so much to the John Kearsey and Shelly Smith-Hines for taking the time to nominate me.


I would not be receiving this award were it not for my parents, Babs and Izzy Asper who are no longer here but who guide my actions every day. Thanks to my dad's business skills I am in a position to give back and thanks to the inspiring examples my parent set, I WANT to give back.  I dedicate this award to them and am so proud to be a second generation winner of this award - my dad having received it in 2001.


It makes me so happy to be in a position to help support causes near and dear to my heart. What a privilege!  Everyone knows I have a hard time saying no to donation requests. I know how hard people work to raise money and how depressing it is coming away with nothing so I always try to give something because it shows my gratitude for their efforts to repair the world. 


I salute all the award winners today and in particular am delighted the Richardsons are being recognized for their philanthropy which certainly had a transformational effect on many projects with which I have been involved. And it was when Hartley Richardson and I co-chaired MTC's capital campaign that I crossed paths with superstar Diane Boyle who lead that campaign. 


That resulted in our teaming up for the daunting Canadian Museum for Human Rights $150M campaign whose success is the reason that museum exists in its splendid form today.


I just want to remind everyone of 2 things. First - being a philanthropist doesn't necessarily mean having to give huge amounts. Sometime a small gift can be the catalyst for an organization to stay energized, hopeful and keep going. 


Second- people should dream big with their philanthropy and not be afraid of taking a leap of faith and investing in risky ventures- like a Human Rights Museum! Or the efforts to save The Experimental Lakes area! 


I can’t tell you lucky I feel to have been able to play a philanthropic role in initiatives like these- which are so near and dear to my heart!


Winston Churchill said:  “We make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give.”  My life has been immeasurably enriched by my philanthropic activities and I look forward to many more years of contributing to people and causes that make this world a better place. Thank you again for this wonderful award.
In an interview following the event, Gail Asper noted that her biggest annual gift is to the Combined Jewish Appeal (CJA).
Asper, who is a former Chair of the CJAl said, "I can't tell you about how much  I believe in a strong Jewish Federation, which is necessary for us to have a vibrant and thriving Jewish community. "It is imperative that everyone support it with a 'fair share' gift." She added that current CJA Chair Steve Kroft is doing  "an awesome job." 
Asper said that when it comes to charitable giving, firstly "people give to people", meaning that "we give to people that we trust", and secondly "people give to make a difference."  She added that when she gets involved in an organization, "and I see what the needs are, it motivates me to want to donate."
Asper also said that she was "delighted' to receive the philanthropy award, and had "not expected to be receiving it." She has received the Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser of the Year Award for 2006 from the Association of Fundraising Professionals, but said this Outstanding Philanthropist Award "came out of left field" in that she had not expected it.

Gail was co-nominated by the University of Manitoba and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, and was lauded in her nomination package for her contagious enthusiasm and boundless energy that fuels her remarkable ability to take on projects unprecedented in scope.


"I have been involved with the Royal MTC since 1989," she noted, indicating that "my first ever volunteer experience was with MTC". She is most proud of

co-Chairing the $11 million Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre Endowment Campaign, which followed a $6 million capital campaign that she also co-Chaired. She also served on the Board and as President of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.


In 2015, Asper made $2 million donation to the Taché Arts Project to foster theatre production and studies at the University of Manitoba. Asper told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that she believes that it is important to have a vibrant university as a university is "a core" part of any city.


Asper has also pledged 5 million dollars over many years to the "Creation Fund" at the National Arts Centre Foundation based in Ottawa, of which she is a past chair. "The Fund seeds new performing arts productions that we hope will become world class." The idea is to fund theatre, for example, that " will become the next Death of a Salesman," she said. The fund pertains to all types of the performing arts, not just theatre. (ie the ballet, the symphony etc).


Gail’s great legacy of course includes the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, a world-class facility which attracts visitors from around the world and inspires all who come to champion human rights. In 2008, she was appointed to the inaugural Board of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and in 2011 was appointed to the Board of The Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. She has been the National Campaign Chair for the Museum’s private sector campaign, which began in 2003. She has supported that campaign with a one million dollar personal donation in addition to the $25 million The Asper Foundation donated.


Asper also said in the interview that "I am still making my United Way calls" to fundraise for the United Way. She is the past Campaign Chair for the Winnipeg 2002 United Way Campaign and is Past President of the Board of Directors for the United Way of Winnipeg.


Gail,her brothers David and Leonard, and The Asper Foundation are now working on their next major project, the World's Jewish Museum to be built in Tel Aviv. The Museum is the brainchild of The Asper Foundation and it will focus on the great achievements Jews around the world have made throughout history in a variety of fields which have enhanced humankind. In August 2015, the Tel-Aviv municipality approved the project. Gail,who is raising funds from the private sector for the World's Jewish Museum has said of the project: “This is an opportunity to build bridges between Israel and the Diaspora so people come away understanding that we are part of one extraordinary tribe, one nation, one people.” The Museum which will be a true architectural gem will be designed by Frank Gehry.



The Association for Fundraising Professionals which named Asper the 2017 Outstanding Philanthropist is an international professional association of individuals responsible for generating philanthropic support for a wide variety of non-profit organizations. In Manitoba, over 200 members work to advance philanthropy and create positive change in our community.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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