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nation builder 2010 finalist

In 2010 Peter Munk cemented his reputation as one of Canada's foremost philanthropists with a $35-million donation to the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs, enabling a dramatic expansion of the Munk Centre for International Studies that he helped start up a decade ago.

The donation - the largest single gift the U of T has received from an individual - underlines the two prongs of Mr. Munk's philanthropic vision: Stay focused and support Canada's role on the world stage.

Mr. Munk, a refugee who built multinational mining giant Barrick Gold Corp. and is still its chairman at the age of 83, believes Canada is one of the world's great countries, yet it is unappreciated by many who were born here.

"We are a country of peace, law, justice, freedom and free education. We have the largest multiracial society in the world," he said. "Canada is as good as it gets."

Mr. Munk has decided to give away most of his fortune rather than leave it to his children. "It is your obligation to give back as much as you have taken from a country," he said in an interview from his winter home in Switzerland. "I consider myself considerably lucky. … I've made some money and I wish to give it back."

Through a foundation he runs with his wife, Melanie, Mr. Munk has concentrated his giving on education and health care.

U of T was chosen as the focus for the education funding, he said, because it is his alma mater and welcomed him with open arms when he came to Canada in the late 1940s. "My first soccer game, my first university dance, my first social events - coming from war-torn Europe - all took place at the U of T," he said.

The other stream of his gift-giving is health care, primarily through large donations to the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at the Toronto General Hospital (now part of the University Health Network). "I realized that heart [disease] which is endemic in my family, also happens to be the number one killer in Canada," he said.

Those who have seen their projects come to fruition, thanks to Mr. Munk, characterize him as a crucial nation builder.

"With Peter, it's about the vision, the objective you want to achieve," said Janice Stein, director of the Munk School of Global Affairs. "That's what engages him."

When she first met Mr. Munk more than a decade ago as her institution was just taking shape, "his vision and commitment was to educate young Canadians to become global citizens," Prof. Stein said. For all the years he supported the centre, including his latest financial contribution, "that has been the insistent theme that Peter has raised again and again," she said.

It is clear that his European roots and his international business viewpoint drew him to the school, she said, because he understands how important it is for young people who want to succeed to look beyond North America's boundaries.

Still, he does not interfere with the day-to-day running of the centre, Prof. Stein said, limiting his involvement to fashioning its vision and objectives, not execution. "This is a person who is used to focusing on results and accomplishments," she said.

Dr. Robert Bell, president of the University Health Network, said the level of Mr. Munk's financial support is astonishing, yet he doesn't hog the spotlight. He insists that the focus of attention should be the people who work at the cardiac centre, Dr. Bell said. "He really gets it … that it is crucial that you to bring folks together and recognize them and give them the sense that they are doing something that is great."

Mr. Munk's family experience with heart problems was a "starting point" for his involvement in cardiac care, Dr. Bell said, but now he has embraced the idea that Canada needs a centre of global excellence. "He's a very proud Canadian and he emphasizes how Canada gave him so much … He wants to see Canadian health care recognized around the world."

The Nation Builder

Peter Munk was born in 1927 in Budapest, Hungary, to a wealthy Jewish family. The family fortune, however, was used up in 1944 to pay for passage on a train transporting Hungarian Jews to Switzerland to escape the Nazi occupation.

Mr. Munk was sent to Toronto for his education. He attended Lawrence Park Collegiate, then headed to the University of Toronto to study electrical engineering.

After graduation, he embarked on business ventures, including the creation of Clairtone Sound Corp., a maker of innovative hi-fi systems. He dabbled in hotels, lived in Britain for several years, and set up an unsuccessful oil business.

His big breakthrough was the creation in 1983 of Barrick Gold, which grew to become the largest gold producer in the world. He stepped down as chief executive officer in 1998 but remains chairman.

The nation building

The fortune Mr. Munk made by turning Barrick into a world gold leader - and through the purchase and subsequent sale of real-estate giant Trizec Corp. - is now being put to use through the Munk Charitable Foundation, which he runs with his wife, Melanie.

His financial support has helped create two Canadian institutions that are world leaders in their fields.

The Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at Toronto General Hospital (part of the University Health Network) was kick-started by $6-million from the foundation in 1997, and it received another $37-million in 2006 - the largest gift ever to a Canadian hospital. It is recognized as a leader in treating cardiovascular diseases.

In 2000, Mr. Munk's foundation donated more than $6-million to start the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto. Last April, he contributed $35-million to broaden the centre into the Munk School of Global Affairs, which will be one of very few international institutions offering graduate degrees in global issues.

He also supports the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel, and established the Aurea Foundation to fund public policy discussions in Canada.

The next step

Mr. Munk says he will further his nation-building work by pumping more of his fortune into these institutions in the coming years. His vision, he says, is simply to "give more money away."

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