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Moses Levy


He begins as Director of Idea Start, a new initiative promoting innovation and entrepreneurship at the U of M.

by Rhonda Spivak, October 20, 2023

[Editor's note: This article was written before the Asper Foundation recently gave a tribute at the CMHR to Moe Levy who recently retired from the Asper Foundation. It was also written prior to Oct 7's Hamas terror attacks on Israel which caused war to brreak out]

On Sept 21, Moses (Moe) Levy received the 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award for Lifetime Achievement from the University of Manitoba. Although Levy, who is the 2024 Jewish National Fund honouree, recently retired as Executive Director of the Asper Foundation at the age of 75, he isn’t slowing down. As he told the Winnipeg Jewish Review, he is taking on a full time Director's position at the U of M as part of a program entitled “Idea Start,”  which he explains is “designed to encourage innovation , entrepreneurship, and creativity “.As Levy says, the concept behind the Idea Start program is to “foster an entrepreneurial culture at the U of M.”   He  adds, “I feel very fortunate  to have this opportunity to help make the U of M a hub of cutting edge innovation.”


Throughout his life Levy has exhibited tremendous leadership and extraordinary impact in the fields of entrepreneurship and human rights, participating in many groundbreaking initiatives. Born in India, Levy moved to Winnipeg at age 20, and began studying commerce at the University of Manitoba on a part-time basis, while he also worked for Transport Canada during the day, graduating  with a Bachelor of Commerce Degree (Honours) in 1973. Levy recalls that for a while he made pizzas at Pizza Place in Grant Park Shopping Centre in the evenings, to help support himself in obtaining an education. Levy went to school on a full time basis to finish his BComm and receive a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree in finance in 1974. 

When Levy was taking evening classes at U of M , he recalls that “the professors weren’t much older than the students and after class we all went to the Montcalm Hotel near the University to get a drink. One of these profs Dr. Walter Good ,later became the Department Head and I had had the opportunity to create a relationship with him over the years resulting in the Centre for Entrepreneurship.


One of the things Levy remembers most about growing up in India, “is the level of poverty that existed, and the difference between the haves and the have nots” Levy, who is Sabbath observant, also recalls “how my mother played a huge role in helping poorer Jews immigrate from Bombay to Israel in the 1950’s and 60’s.” In fact, a lot of Levy’s family moved to Israel before and after the birth of the State. “My great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents are all buried in Rishon Le Zion,” he notes,  adding that  he has a strong connection to Israel and her people. He has four sisters and their families who live there.


Levy says he knew from a young age that he had a keen interest in business.

After graduating with an MBA, Levy worked as a consultant, and was hired by the Manitoba Department of Industry and Tourism, where he scucessfully led the development of several groundbreaking programs for small business. After this, he became the Executive Director of Enterprise Manitoba. " In this capacity, I developed and managed one of Canada’s first business incubator initiatives, " he indicates. Levy, an entrepreneur in his own right, became the President and CEO of The Canadian Heritage Co, one of Canada’s largest mail order firms.

Levy was passionate about entrepreneurial education at a time when this was a very new field. "The first time I met Izzy Asper was when I created the Centre for Entrepreneurship at the University of Manitoba, raising $330,000 to get the Centre started on a part-time basis. 

Izzy wanted to  give a gift to U of M for the 25th Anniversary of Can-West Global as he believed that entrepreneurship drives everything ,creates wealth and enables individuals to come up with ideas that change the world. He put $1 million into the Centre for Entrepreneurship in 1997, which became the Asper Centre for Entrepreneurship." It is now known as the Stu Clarke Centre at the Asper School of Business. Levy was its first Executive Director. 

An article in U of M today describes Levy's love of entrepreneurship, stating "His passion for teaching and inspiring entrepreneurs has resulted in tens of thousands of students being exposed to this field and becoming equipped with the tools to fulfill their entrepreneurial goals.  Taking what he learned from the Asper Centre for Entrepreneurship, Levy then established the Asper Hebrew U’s Centre for Entrepreneurship and later the University‘s  Innovation Program, which brings an entrepreneurial mindset to all faculties at the University.  A program in East Jerusalem focused on educating Arab women in entrepreneurship has changed its culture creating many hundreds of jobs”


In reflecting on the successes of the Asper School of Business, Levy told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that "When I was in  University of Manitoba in the finance program, there was only one woman at the time enrolled. Today 50% of students at the Asper School of Bsuiness are women." Levy also indicates that about 90% of the graduates from the Asper School are employed in Manitoba, “meaning they have a huge impact on the Manitoba economy.”


In 1993, Levy purchased the Winnipeg Fur Exchange, which he describes as "an outfitter and retailer of parkas, and boots for the northern climate," and sold it in 1999. He became the Executive Director of the Asper Foundation that same year.


Levy notes that Izzy and Babs Asper created the Apser Foundation in 1983, and in 1999 he recalls, "I saw an ad to run a Jewish Foundation in Manitoba, and I put my name in for the running  since I wanted to stay in Manitoba. I had another opportunity to become the Vice-President  of St. Claire's College in Windsor, Ontario, but my family wanted to stay in Winnipeg." “I’m glad that I did”


Levy says that he had a final interview to become the Executive Director of the Asper Foundation with Izzy Asper, Gail Asper and  Richard Leipsic. "I started the interview with a joke, and Izzy outlined all of the things he wanted to accomplish with his Foundation over the next three hours.”When Levy’s wife Barbra, z"l, asked Levy how the interview went, Levy recalls, “I said he wasn't really sure, as I hadn’t said that much.” Levy recalls being thrilled to get the position of being the first Executive Director of the Asper Foundation "Izzy and I clicked from day one. We became really good friends, well beyond the relationship of employer-employee." Levy had been in a Levy had been in the job for only a few short months when, on Nov. 22, 2000, Izzy Asper made what was at the time the two largest donations ever made by an individual in the city: $10 million  to the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, and $10 million to the Winnipeg Foundation. Other big gifts were also made that included the St.Boniface Hospital, the University of Manitoba, Hebrew University and others.


Levy describes Izzy as someone "who always wanted to do big things. He didn't want to be just a cheque writer. He understood that in order to do create change you need to take risks.The projects and programs the Asper Foundation has created and funded both in Israel and Canada, including, of course, the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, demonstrate the ability of Izzy and Babs, and their children to think big." Levy was inspired working with Izzy, and only wishes he had had more time to work with him. Izzy  died in 2003 at 71, only four years after Levy became Executive Director of the Asper Foundation 


Levy emphasizes that "from the day Izzy and I first talked about the creation of the CMHR on July 18, 2000, it took 14 years until it opened. Levy points out that ,"With a project such as the CMHR, you need to have the commitment and have the ability to continue to persevere and not give up." Levy did not give up, and neither, of course, did Babs, Gail, David and Leonard Asper. The idea of a museum that Izzy so dearly cherished was turned into reality, especially through the tireless efforts of Gail Asper and Levy. "With Gail’s determination the fundraising team of the Friends which she led, succeeded in raising the private sector donor funds from over 8500 donors,"Levy says. Levy put together the business plan, put together the content team, organized an international architecture competition, and along with the Gail and the Asper Trustees ensured politicians of different levels of government  were  all kindly disposed to its creation-- the first national museum outside of Ottawa. 


Levy told the Winnipeg Jewish Review  it  has been the honour and privilege of a lifetime  to have worked with Izzy and Babs Asper, Gail, David and Leonard, and Richard .And in particular Gail as they worked together on every project of the foundation over 23 years.The Asper Foundation has just been so incredibly generous to this city, province and Israel. The Asper brand is so well recognized, from the Community Actions Centres in Israel, to HU to the CMHR. The current trustees of the Asper Foundation -Gail Asper, David Asper, Leonard  Asper and Richard Leipsic- have done an exceptional job in leading this Foundation, and in making the world a better place.” I am so pleased that the foundation is now in the capable hands of Anita Wortzman as she leads it into its next chapter”Levy noted.


Levy stresses that Izzy and Babs Asper set up the Asper Foundation as a legacy to our community. As Levy concludes,  "We can all be very grateful to Izzy and Babs. The impact of the Asper Foundation, on the Jewish community and wider of Winnipeg is profound. About  1/4 of the Jewish Federation's CJA Campaign comes from the Asper Foundation."


Levy told U of M Today in regards to his  receiving the University of Manitoba Distinguished Alumni Award for Lifetime Achievement.  

“I can’t even put into words how I feel about receiving this award.” He added “I’ve been involved with the university and the community for so long, but when I got the call about this it made me realize that I actually did contribute to Winnipeg and do things that made a difference. I’m so happy I was able to spend my life this way, and I’m proud to have been able to give so much back to the university.” 

Levy is a recipient of the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University's Scopus Award for his work promoting humanitarian causes. He is also the recipient of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg’s Sol Kanee Medal for Distinguished Community Service, the Mahatma Gandhi Peace Award and the Community Champion Special Award by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.

Levy will also be the Honoree at next years, 2024 JNF Negev Gala. He has chosen a project that is only fitting -to empower and help Ethiopian Women in their OWN centre in Bet Shemesh. It is also fitting that following that the centre will be named for his parents “The Sarah and Benjamin Levy Women’s Empowerment Centre.”

Regarding his upcoming work at the University of Manitoba, Levy concludes "I consider myself to be very fortunate to be able to work at the University of Manitoba in this new initiative. This is coming full circle from what I started almost 40 years ago." 


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.