On our board: five minutes with a philanthropist

We ask INSPIRED board member Anthony Lee why supporting higher education is so important to him.

Anthony Lee moved to Australia in 1987. He is a private investor and director of several publicly listed companies. He has experience in multiple fundraising campaigns, most recently as a member of the executive committee for Princeton University’s Aspire Campaign, which raised a total of US$1.88 billion.

In 2014 Anthony and his wife, Sharon, established the Sydney Conservatorium of Music’s first jazz scholarships through the Anthony and Sharon Lee Foundation. The scholarships give young talented jazz musicians the opportunity to pursue their musical ambitions.

What motivates you to support university students? 

In a world with increasing income and wealth disparity, I firmly believe that higher education is a great social equaliser and the most effective way to break the poverty cycle.

Through years of involvement in higher education, I have supported many underprivileged students who have made significant achievements and contributions to their fields. Best of all, most of these students have a strong commitment to service and to giving back to society.

What do you hope your gift to students at the Conservatorium will achieve? 

I established the Conservatorium’s jazz scholarship because of my passion for the genre and my desire to help talented, underprivileged musicians to fulfil their potential. I hope my gift will inspire more support for music and the arts.

Why is philanthropic funding so important to universities? 

Philanthropic funding provides a university with the essential resources to commit to a long-term strategy in teaching and research.

The cost of operating a world-class institution is vast and the current model is vulnerable to the effects of government budget pressures and policy changes. There are other challenges, including the rise of online learning and competition from much better endowed universities in Asia. There are also opportunities to invest in student aid and new academic programs and initiatives. Philanthropic support is therefore critical to strengthen and diversify funding to ensure capacity and flexibility in the University’s pursuit of excellence.

We know you are a strong believer in liberal arts education. Can you tell us why you are so passionate about this?

A liberal arts education is based on the fundamental belief in the intrinsic value of learning and basic knowledge. It does not prepare us for a specific job or career but expands our minds, broadens our perspective and enables us to adapt and learn new things in a critical way.

As an undergraduate I studied pure mathematics, which trained my mind to think logically and laterally and treat abstract concepts rigorously. I also received an all-rounded education in the humanities, social sciences and engineering. A course in music inspired my lifelong interest in jazz. Exposure to economics and computer science also stimulated my intellectual appetite for investment, finance and technology.

Investing in the jazz musicians of tomorrow

Young, talented jazz musicians can now apply for the Sydney Conservatorium of Music’s first jazz scholarship, thanks to the generosity of jazz lovers, Anthony and Sharon Lee.

The Anthony and Sharon Lee Foundation Jazz Scholarships will support two postgraduate and five undergraduate students for the duration of their degrees. The scholarships are designed to enable promising students who have genuine financial needs to reduce the number of hours they need to do paid work, so they can focus on their studies.

The Sydney Conservatorium (the Con) has produced some of the most outstanding, versatile and creative musicians on the jazz scene, many of whom are the inspiration and motivation behind the Lee’s decision to endow the scholarships.

“I have a lot of friends in the jazz world and most of them went to the Con,” says Anthony. “Some of them are now world-class musicians doing very well not just in Australia but also in places like New York City. I’m very impressed by the work of the Con, so making the decision to fund these scholarships wasn’t difficult at all.”

While the foundation is relatively new, Anthony and Sharon have been ardent supporters of a wide range of music-based organisations and activities, including the National Jazz Awards, Opera Australia and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Anthony is also a dedicated volunteer serving his alma mater in the US, Princeton, where his passion for jazz led him to endow its jazz program, and fund a scholarship for international students. More recently, Anthony has been appointed as a Campaign board member for INSPIRED – the Campaign to support the University of Sydney.

Anthony’s love of jazz began at an early age, “My father used to have a whole collection of jazz vinyl. Even as a kid, when all my friends were listening to The Beatles, I’d be listening to Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong.”

“I play the piano and guitar, and I used to play in bands at high school in Hong Kong before going to Princeton as an undergraduate to study mathematics in the 70s – that’s where I took a jazz course which really cemented my love for music.”

A passion for music is something that runs through the whole family. Anthony, his wife Sharon and their son, a third-year Juris Doctor student at the University of Sydney, all play the guitar or piano, and their daughter is planning to pursue a postgraduate degree in jazz vocal in the United States.

Anthony and Sharon’s love of jazz has certainly been the catalyst for their philanthropic efforts. “Talent development is a major passion of ours,” says Anthony. “That’s why I don’t really see this funding as a gift; it’s an investment in talent.”

“In a field like jazz, it’s often quite difficult to make ends meet and that discourages a lot of young talent to pursue it. With this scholarship, hopefully we will help to lighten the financial burden of study.”

Anthony, whose current inspirations include John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny and Australian jazz legend, Mike Nock, hopes the scholarships and the impact of his investment will inspire others to support the genre, “It’s not easy to generate funding for jazz; it’s quite a niche area and that’s why I’m happy to have this opportunity to support the Con.”

Anthony moved to Australia in 1987, and currently works as a private investor and director of a number of publicly listed companies. He has experience in multiple fundraising campaigns. Most recently, he was an Executive Committee Member for Princeton’s Aspire Campaign which concluded in 2012, having raised a total of US$1.88 billion.

In his role of Campaign board member, Anthony plans to share his ideas and best practice in fundraising from the US. “Volunteerism is the key to success in the US – identifying the right people and making sure they’re passionate about the University and are well equipped to make the approach. We go through a lot of training in the US and I hope to share that in Australia.”