Jack Cowin’s $3 million whopper to Queensland’s Bond University has upsized student gateways to the world.

It was a spirit of adventure that helped bring a 26-year-old Jack Cowin to Australia in 1969. Far from his Canadian roots, Cowin admits the experience was a “real eye opener.”

“Most of the people I’d grown up with lived within 100 miles of each other so Australia was a long way away,” he explains. “Forty-four years later, I realise how lucky I was to end up here and what a great learning experience it was for me.”

Cowin’s “learning experience” includes building a formidable food empire. He is the owner of the Hungry Jack’s franchise in Australia, a major shareholder in Dominos, and Chair of Competitive Foods which exports food products to almost 30 countries.

Cowin’s keen understanding of the international marketplace has been integral to his business success, and served as the touchstone for his recent $3 million donation to Bond University. This far-sighted gift will fund merit-based scholarships enabling Bond students to study at Cowin’s alma mater, Western University in Ontario, Canada, without being hampered by financial concerns.

“Travel helps you learn to respect what happens in the rest of the world,” says Cowin, who describes himself as a citizen of the world and still travels widely with business interests in the US, Canada and Europe. “The bottom line is that you can no longer survive doing business just in your own backyard – the global village is increasingly important, and I’d like others to have the same opportunity to experience the world.”

With three daughters, one son and 11 grandchildren, Cowin advocates a global vision for his entire family and the connection with Bond University was forged via one of his daughters who studied there.

“Jack is very keen on the next generation of students realising that the world is a very small place,” says Bond University vice-chancellor Tim Brailsford. “This natural touch point led to discussions about how we might create opportunities with an international perspective, not just in terms of study, but also general life experience.”

Philanthropy-donor-jack-cowin-300x240Bond University was already aligned with Cowin’s international vision, with more than a third of the university’s students hailing from overseas (including a significant number of Canadians). Brailsford says the cultural similarities of Australia and Canada helped cement the relationship.

“Canada’s geography and geopolitical spread are very similar to ours,” he says. “They have an economic powerhouse on their doorstep with the US, just as we do with Asia. Two-thirds of Canadians live on one side of the country just like Australia, and we both have Commonwealth heritage.”

Bond University is punching above its weight in terms of generous alumni support. “Most institutions need to be at least 40 years old to raise serious funds,” Brailsford says matter-of-factly. “The majority of Australian universities are now fairly mature organisations, so graduates are at various stages in life where they have the capacity to give something back.”

For his part, Cowin predicts philanthropic giving to Australian educational institutions will increase, inspired by the US model. “Canadians and Australians tend to look at education as a government-sponsored activity,” he says. “But culturally in the US there’s a strong belief that you should give back to where you learned; that by supporting those institutions you’re helping them to be able to employ the best staff and build the best facilities, which goes far beyond the basics of what can be achieved through government support alone.”

“The philanthropic culture in Australia will change in time,” Cowin anticipates. “I think it’s just a matter of exposure.”

Earlier this year, Cowin was interviewed by The Fortune Institute about his entrepreneurial success, wealth, and his relationship with Australia:

About Nicole Richards

Nicole Richards is a freelance writer specialising in the nonprofit sector, and she is a regular contributor to Fundraising and Philanthropy and Generosity magazines. 

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