Date posted: 02/03/2018 5 min read

Charity on a grand scale

How do you invest three billion dollars for the greater good of society? That’s the challenge for Peter Evans, CA, trustee of the Paul Ramsay Foundation.

In Brief

  • Health care magnate Paul Ramsay bequeathed three billion dollars to charity upon his death in 2014.
  • Trustees aim to use it to deal with causes of disadvantage, but deciding how to use the money is not easy.
  • Ramsay paid for Aboriginal scholarships at Riverview School, one of the leading schools in Sydney.

By Alexandra Johnson.

When a close friend dies and leaves you in care of three billion dollars, you have a lot of learning to do.

So says Peter Evans, ex-colleague and personal friend of the late Paul Ramsay, who died in 2014 leaving a philanthropic bequest of more than $3 billion to charity.  

(Pictured: Peter Evans (right) with the late Paul Ramsay.)

Ramsay built his fortune founding Paul Ramsay Health Care, which consists of 220 private hospitals throughout Australia and across the globe. He left the bulk of his estate to the Paul Ramsay Foundation, a charitable trust he had established a few years before his passing. 

Evans is a Chartered Accountant who was in public practice before starting to work with Ramsay in the late 1960s. He was deputy chair of Ramsay Health Care and a trustee of the foundation. While the foundation existed before Ramsay’s death, he says: “there wasn’t a lot of money in it – we were just doing some small things.”

But Ramsay’s death and several billion dollars changed that. 

“Since that time,” says Evans: “we have been wrestling with how we deal with three to four billion dollars to affect real change in people’s lives”.

We want to do things that make a change, which will bring about an improvement in the lives of the disadvantaged
Peter Evans Paul Ramsay Health Care

Evans uses a quote from Aristotle to describe the complexities of the charge: “To give away money is an easy matter and in any man's power. But to decide to whom to give it and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man's power nor an easy matter.”

“That’s the bit that is hard,” he says.  “Anyone can give away money. Anyone can say ‘oh that’s easy, we’ll just write a cheque’. We want to do things that make a change, which will bring about an improvement in the lives of the disadvantaged. But our aim is not to give to disadvantage as such, but try and deal with the causes of it.”

Evans says Ramsay’s vision always revolved around people. “He loved to mentor people. We think we are just working on that, but on a bigger scale.”

“Paul loved to promote and encourage young people to grow and learn in their roles. Many may not know that he paid for Aboriginal scholarships at Riverview School, one of the leading schools in Sydney.”

A focus on mental health

Evans says they met when he began to work with Ramsay “and it was part of Paul’s way that most of the people who worked closely with him became friends”.

“I live in Bowral and Paul lived in Bowral and we’d often get together at his or my place and talk. We had a lot of talks about health and the needs of the community.” 

The trustees have spent a lot of time researching where to invest and the Foundation now has staff to help them. “But it is still early days and we continue to look at our processes and refine strategy while we build an internal team.”

Health is an obvious focus. “We have been focussing on mental health and chronic conditions. One of the things we are working on is seeing how we can reduce the harm caused by illicit drugs, largely by bringing together other organisations in that field.”

From suicide prevention to raising teaching standards in Australia, the foundation is looking at a range of ways they can make a difference, says Evans. 

“We want to find where we can have the maximum impact. The issues need to be big enough to matter, but still small enough to change.”

Related: Better to give than receive

Helping the community with pro bono work adds up to about 40,000 days of service a year for accountants, who love what they do, according to a report from CA ANZ.

Alexandra Johnson is a freelance writer based in Wellington.

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