Peter and Melanie Munk’s transformative giving demonstrates their passion for higher learning and health-care excellence
Peter Munk and his wife Melanie share a bold vision for Canada’s evolving role in the world – one of the nation playing a more prominent role in global affairs, influencing issues like innovation and cyber security while also pushing new frontiers in health care.
True to form, the Munks don’t just dream big. As two of the country’s foremost philanthropists, they are well known for backing important causes.
Their support for the University of Toronto (U of T) and the University Health Network (UHN) helped create world-renowned Canadian centres of excellence in global affairs and cardiovascular care. These are just two examples of how the Munks’ financial support and influence have not only enriched Toronto, but also the nation and the world.
Already the recipients of numerous awards for their philanthropic work, the couple recently won the Outstanding Philanthropist Award from the Greater Toronto Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP).
Since 1992, Peter and Melanie have contributed more than $180-million to charities and public institutions in Canada and abroad, establishing them among the country’s most generous philanthropists.
Keenly interested in international affairs and health care, Mr. Munk says, “Philanthropy is the perfect way to achieve all the things that I find are critical, paying back to a country that has given me all.”
He traces his philanthropic inspiration to 1947 when he arrived in Canada as a young man, having fled to Switzerland from Hungary when the Nazis invaded in 1944. At the time, he spoke neither English nor French and did not know anyone. But he soon discovered none of that mattered.
“This is a country that does not ask about your origins, it only concerns itself with your destiny,” he says.
A year later, in 1948, Mr. Munk began his long relationship with U of T when he enrolled to study electrical engineering at the university’s post-war campus in Ajax. He later transferred to the St. George campus and graduated in 1952.
While he may have built Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold mining company, in many ways Mr. Munk’s heart has remained anchored to his time as a student in Toronto.
“‘U of T is what made me a Canadian.’ This is how Peter Munk describes his affinity to his alma mater. I could not imagine a more poetic accolade,” says Professor Meric Gertler, president of U of T. “Peter’s entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to excellence exemplify what we stand for as a university, and we are immensely proud of everything he has accomplished as one of our graduates.”
The Munks have also given back to Canada through their ongoing support for UHN.
To date, the Peter and Melanie Munk Charitable Foundation has contributed more than $75-million to support the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre (PMCC) and its award-winning staff at UHN.
As a visionary, Mr. Munk has always appreciated the value of innovative foresight, so when PMCC medical director Dr. Barry Rubin proposed the idea of an Innovation Fund that would offer financial support to evaluate new ways of providing care, the Munks immediately supported the idea with a generous donation and encouraged other like-minded philanthropists to do the same.
The Innovation Fund functions like a medical version of CBC’s popular Dragons’ Den, a reality show where ideas are pitched to a panel of venture capitalists. Similarly, Innovation Fund proposals are reviewed and funds granted quarterly by a committee comprised of 14 clinicians and business leaders.
The PMCC houses one of the largest multidisciplinary programs of its kind in the world, focusing on excellence in clinical care, research, innovation and teaching. The state-of-the-art facility has eight dedicated operating rooms, six imaging units (CT and MRI) and six cardiac catheterization labs. The PMCC’s 2015 statistics – more than 2,000 cardiovascular and vascular surgeries, over 7,800 interventional procedures, 25 heart transplants and 34 left ventricular assist devices, or mechanical heart supports – make it a high-volume centre that cares for patients with the most complex cardiovascular disease in North America.
“Peter’s tenacity and focus and his drive to innovate are reflected in the way the PMCC operates,” says Dr. Rubin. “Philanthropic leadership from Peter and Melanie has propelled the centre onto the world stage, and has enabled our clinicians and researchers to have a meaningful impact on cardiovascular care around the globe.”
That leadership is also evident in the Munks’ support for U of T and their passionate belief that young Canadians need to be global citizens and the country needs to play a more significant role internationally.
The Munks’ generosity to U of T exceeds $51-million, including a landmark donation in 2010 of $35-million – the largest single gift from an individual in the university’s history at the time – to create the Munk School of Global Affairs. Made in the wake of the economic crisis of 2008, the donation was a decisive gesture that signalled the return of visionary philanthropy in Canada.“
At the Munk School of Global Affairs, students learn from the best scholars and policy experts how to shape and enlarge Canada’s unique role in the world,” says Professor Stephen Toope, director of the Munk School of Global Affairs. “Our leading-edge research helps Canadians navigate worldwide issues that affect our lives – from innovation policy to the role of global cities.”
But the school was not the Munks’ first contribution to nurturing Canada’s broader worldview. In 1997, the Munk Foundation donated $6.4-million to the U of T to start the Munk Centre for International Studies, which established the university as Canada’s leading hub for the interdisciplinary examination of global issues.
The Munk Centre became the Munk School of Global Affairs, which offers an integrated academic and professional graduate degree, the Master of Global Affairs.
The Munks are also the driving force behind the Munk Debates, one of the world’s most prestigious public debating forums. The debates, which take place in Toronto, have elevated public discourse on critical issues such as the global refugee crisis, state surveillance, the future of Europe, religion in the public sphere and climate change.
U of T chancellor Michael Wilson says the couple has set the bar for philanthropy in Canada. “Generations of Munk School of Global Affairs experts will speak for Canada on the world stage, and I can think of no greater tribute to a couple who care so deeply about the future of this country.”
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