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Friday 31 July 2009

Self-made man channels fortune into charity

By Rebecca Baillie

ABC's 7.30 Report

Posted Thu Jul 30, 2009

Giving something back: Entrepreneur Steve Killelea in Africa. (Supplied)
Map: Sydney 2000

Entrepreneur Steve Killelea enjoys all the trappings of wealth - a waterfront house on Sydney's Northern Beaches, a booming business empire, and a European sports car.
Having left school at 16, the 59-year-old is a self-made man.
In his 20s he moved from spending his time surfing into investing in the computer industry - a move that paid massive dividends.
Not one to keep his millions to himself, he is now one of Australia's largest individual foreign aid donors.
"We just felt we wanted to give something back. My goal is to have 50 per cent of my wealth at any one time working towards a charitable means," he said.
Ten years ago Mr Killelea and his wife Debbie set up The Charitable Foundation, donating $5 million a year to more than 60 development projects around the world.
Their charity bankrolls programs in Africa and South East Asia which provide clean water, build medical clinics and schools, rehabilitate child soldiers and perform eye operations.
"About one third of the developing world is blind, 40-50 per cent of that is cataracts," Mr Killelea said.
"For $40 you can give somebody back their eyesight. It doesn't matter if they have been blind for a decade or 20 years, you clean out the cataracts and they can see."
Cambodia is one country which is benefiting from Mr Killelea's generosity. Home to 14 million people, it is one of the poorest nations on Earth.
The World Bank estimates more than a third of Cambodians are living below the poverty line, on about 50 cents a day.
As the capital city Phnom Penh grows, more and more of its residents are being forcibly evicted from their homes.
Mr Killelea is helping to relocate people like these into new houses on the city's outskirts, on land provided by the Cambodian government.
Few donors
His money sponsors the work of Habitat for Humanity, a global charity which provides housing and infrastructure for the world's neediest people.
"We've been working in Cambodia with Habitat for Humanity for six years now - working with minority and poor groups that have been displaced from housing and providing them with loans so that they can build their own houses with cheap interest rates and then pay it back," he said.
Habitat for Humanity international's director in Cambodia, Bernadette Bolo-Duthy, says the entrepreneur's support has allowed the charity to expand its operations in the country.
"In Cambodia there are many NGOs, there are 1,000 NGOs, and there are hundreds of international NGOs doing lots of things, but there are very few donors that are into providing housing infrastructure support to poor people," she said.
Mr Killelea's philanthropy not only takes him to the developing world. He also rubs shoulders at the highest levels with political and business leaders.
Last month he was in London to launch another of his initiatives, the Global Peace Index.
The index is the first to rank nations by their peacefulness, based on a number of criteria including the imprisonment rate, level of violent crime and military expenditure.
It is a cause he is very passionate about.
"Peace is a prerequisite for survival of society as we know it," he said.
"It does have economic benefit for society. It is really quite clear. You can create a bomb and blow a house up or you can build a second house with the same amount of capital."
The index is being embraced by global business as a tool which basically gives peace an economic value.
Mr Killelea is not sure what motivates him to give so much but he does know that practising Buddhism and meditating gives him a focus.
"You stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about others and when you stop thinking about yourself you are actually happier." he said.

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