These are exciting times for The University of Queensland, which has secured major philanthropic gifts for health and research by drawing on donor personal experience.

Many of you will be aware of recent news that actor Bruce Willis is stepping away from his lengthy acting career following a diagnosis of aphasia, a chronic disability that affects a person’s ability to talk, understand what is being said to them, read information, and write.

Joining Bruce in this diagnosis is more that 140,000 Australians who suffer from the condition, which typically occurs after a stroke or head injury. John Noble is one such Australian, who lives with the aphasia following a stroke.

“He had no numbers, no alphabet and he answered every question with yes, but he had no idea what people were talking about,” says his wife, Bridget. John and Bridget feature in this video which gives a deeper insight into John’s life and the lives of others living with aphasia.

Understandably, people with the condition often experience depression and social isolation, and challenges in their jobs, relationships and everyday life.

Fortunately, there is treatment, and pioneering research and therapy continues to drive that forward. One institution at the forefront of this effort is The University of Queensland (UQ) and they have recently received two transformative major gifts that will help them take the next big leap in the response to aphasia.

Game-changing generosity from a family with lived experience

In late April, UQ opened the Queensland Aphasia Research Centre (QARC), which will enable leading researchers and clinicians in aphasia rehabilitation to develop innovative treatments that maximise use of technology and tailor support to individuals.

This pioneering initiative was made possible in part thanks to $500,000 from an anonymous donor and a $1 million gift from the Bowness Family Foundation. Founded in 2008 by Bill Bowness AO, with his daughters Natasha Bowness and Kelly Wyborn, the foundation has three core areas of focus: arts and culture, education, and disability. The area of neurological disorders is particularly personal to Bill.

“I have stuttered my whole life,” says Bill. “My father suffered a severe stroke and as part of that, developed aphasia and couldn’t speak. We want to help people whose lives are impacted by similar issues­”.

From left to right: Natasha Bowness, Bill Bowness and Kelly Wyborn

QARC is based at the Surgical, Treatment and Rehabilitation Service (STARS), a specialist public health facility for the Metro North Hospital and Health Service (MNHHS) and a collaborative community home to more than 30 health facilities, medical research institutes, universities and organisations. Universities are particularly savvy at forming collaborative research relationships and no doubt QARC is one such example that will shine.

Leading the charge is QARC Director Professor David Copland, who believes the research centre will transform the recovery journey for thousands of Australians and their families.

“The experiences and opinions of people living with aphasia are central to the vision of the Centre to ensure the programs we develop are meaningful and relevant,” David said.

“An eight-week therapy program called CHAT is tailored for individuals and delivered in a variety of ways, including in the participant’s home via tele-rehabilitation.”

CHAT participants have already shown major improvements in their communication, confidence and quality of life.

“The improvement in John’s speaking after the program was massive,” says Bridget of her husband.

David explains QARC’s major donors are the reason the centre has been able to extend the network of clinicians and researchers across Australia to develop and deliver treatments that improve the lives of people with aphasia.

“These generous donations have allowed us to develop a community of over 450 people with aphasia, family members, researchers and clinicians, engage with over 300 research participants, and work with over 40 healthcare sites as part of our research,” David says.

University gifts can be so large, it is sometimes difficult to scale the impact down to the experience of one. But as quality of life begins to improve for people like John, who can now better communicate with the people he loves, we are left with a clear picture of the difference higher education philanthropy, and the people it funds, can make.

UQ builds for a sustainable future

The Andrew N. Liveris building officially opened in April 2022, resplendent in hues of purple with internal and external staircases, resting spots and flower beds housed in distinctive green orbs that stand out in the landscape of the UQ St Lucia campus.

Within its walls is the university’s School of Chemical Engineering, now equipped with labs and technology that will spearhead research capabilities most universities have not seen before.

“As shown in the recent QS World University Rankings by Subject, UQ is in the top three chemical engineering schools within Australia and this building will greatly enhance our capabilities to find solutions to global challenges,” says UQ Vice-Chancellor Professor Deborah Terry AO.

The 11-storey building features 500 square metres of teaching space and 2000 square metres of laboratory space. It also has glass-walled research laboratories, allowing visitors to watch research as it happens, and fit-for-purpose equipment to enable researchers to safely test reactors, x-ray machines and lasers.

Thousands of students from across the university will use the building, including the 600 undergraduate and Masters students, and 200 higher degree research students.

A cutting-edge hub of innovation indeed – let’s look at who helped make it possible.

The clue is in the name

The latest jewel in UQ’s scientific research crown is named after distinguished chemical engineering alumnus (1975) and global business leader Andrew Liveris AO, who has provided generous support alongside his wife Paula.

Andrew and Paula donated $13.5 million to establish the Andrew N. Liveris Academy for Innovation and Leadership, which is also housed in the new building and gives life to the family’s passion for supporting future generations of leaders.

Andrew Liveris in front of UQ’s new School of Chemical Engineering

“I spent four years at University of Queensland studying chemical engineering and I feel very strongly about the impact that had on me,” Andrew says.

“I consider UQ as the place where I learned how to learn.

And providing this precious opportunity to learn will give students and researchers the chance to change the world around them, not least by addressing climate change. Head of the School of Chemical Engineering, Professor Justin Cooper-White, says large-scale energy, resource and manufacturing industries contributed substantially to carbon emissions around the world, but the work of chemical engineers could change this.

“We can use our expertise and these fantastic world-class facilities to try and reduce the impact of these industries,” Justin says.

“Our research teams are currently working on dozens of projects that will help transform our economy into one that is sustainable and will serve the community for generations to come.”

A job well done

The UQ team should feel proud of the hard work they have put in to develop philanthropic relationships that have helped establish these world-class research centres – relationships that tap into donor lived experience and the gratitude of individuals whose own lives have been enhanced by the organisation. And tapping into personal experiences like these is a lesson all fundraisers can learn from.

To learn more about QARC, click here.

To learn more about the Andrew N. Liveris building, click here and here.

To read more F&P coverage of UQ’s fundraising and philanthropy activity, click here and here.

Click here to read about Bill Bowness’ previous philanthropic support of UQ.

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