The retired Aussie cricket captain talks about his most valuable lessons in philanthropy; an inspiring meeting with Mother Teresa; The Captain’s Ride and the challenges of raising funds and awareness for kids with rare diseases.
You established the Steve Waugh Foundation with your wife, Lynette, in 2004 after retiring from cricket. How did you get started and why did you choose to focus your support on children with a rare disease?
SW: I don’t know how it happened really. I guess maybe it started back in India when I met Mother Teresa in around 1996 and I started doing some work there. I always wanted to start a charity in Australia but didn’t really know how.
When I retired from cricket I said: “Let’s start a charity that helps kids who have nowhere to turn.” I wanted to help kids who were achieving things against the odds and showing enormous strength and character—the motto of our organisation is Strength of Character. My wife did a lot of research on who we were helping and realised a lot of these kids fall into the category of rare diseases and that’s where we narrowed our focus.
Our first funds came from a deal I had with The Telegraph newspaper, where they made a dollar donation from every red hanky that was bought and that raised $168,000. Then I set up this thing called the Steve Waugh First 11 where I got 11 high net worth individuals to each donate a substantial amount of money and all of a sudden we had a corpus of $3 million.
My wife and I donate to the foundation pretty regularly. But I guess time is what we donate, it’s been about 30 or 40 hours a week for the last 10 years for both of us, so I guess our main commitment is time. I believe there are three ways people can donate: time, expertise and money— I’m happy to take any of those from anyone!
Have you always been interested in philanthropy and making a difference?
SW: I don’t really know the answer to that. I guess you see what your parents do and the people around you but I’ve always been pretty lucky and had a good lifestyle. I was lucky to fall into a professional job as a cricketer.
I think what opened my eyes was touring the sub-continent, because cricket is played in third world countries. I saw things that I never imagined would have happened anywhere. I think when you see situations like that, you can’t pretend you didn’t see them. For me it was, ‘I’ve got to do something if I can.’ Also, I was in a position where I could make a difference and I had the time to do something.
Really meeting Mother Teresa was probably the catalyst that got me into my charity work. She had a presence, she had an aura. She was very tiny and hunched over and you could see she had rheumatoid arthritis in her fingers and toes but she had that very calming influence around people. It was just a moment, and it was only brief, but it did stick with me and I just think of her and how she dedicated her whole life to the poorest of the poor.
She inspired me. I saw what she did and understood that in a small way, I could do something to help and that’s how I started my work in India helping with rehabilitation for kids with leprosy or their parents with leprosy, and that work continues today.
You’re about to ride from Sydney to Byron Bay to raise money and awareness through your Foundation to “put rare diseases on the map”. Where did the idea for the Captain’s Ride (1-6 November) come from?
SW: The concept came from a mate of mine who’s actually doing the ride—he had a quadruple bypass a few years ago and as he was recovering from that he would go on bike rides and I thought maybe one day we should do that for charity.
This year is the 10th anniversary of the Foundation and we’re always looking to do things differently and have a meaningful event people might want to come back to and everyone seems to like bike-riding at the moment! So that’s where the concept was born about six months ago and it started to really take off.
We started with a pretty modest fundraising goal of $250,000 then $500,000 then $750,000 but I’m hoping we can get to $1 million. It’s aiming pretty high, but I believe we can do that—it’s getting some momentum now.
You’ll be riding 920 kilometres—what’s your training regimen been like?
SW: I’ve been cramming in the last couple of months! The first couple of months I’d been cruising – organising the event. It’s a long ride and it’s going to be challenging—it’s 150 km a day with a lot of hills and I still don’t know whether I’m going to make it! I’m hoping that I will but that’s part of the attraction of the ride—it’s going to push us to our very limits.
I wanted an event which in some small way mimics what the families have to go through with rare diseases. They face challenges every day, they’ve got to have a positive attitude, they’ve got to work together to get through the tough times. It’s about standing alongside these families and kids and letting them know they’re not alone, that they have that support.
What’s been the most valuable lesson in terms of your philanthropy that you’ve learnt to date?
SW: It’s the same lesson in sport and everything: hard work pays off. You’ve got to work really hard! You can’t go into charity as a token gesture or because you want to build your brand. This is a serious commitment and its takes time and energy and you’ve got to work hard at it to make sure you do a really good job. It’s difficult, but it’s also very satisfying.
Read more about the work of the Steve Waugh Foundation and the Captain’s Ride here.