Trust Magazine

Partners for a Sea Change

The Minderoo Foundation of Andrew and Nicola Forrest takes on big issues and earns big results

Philanthropists and Minderoo Foundation founders Nicola and Andrew Forrest, shown here in Perth, Western Australia, were the first Australians to sign the Giving Pledge, a promise to give away at least half of their fortunes to charitable causes. Ocean conservation is a large focus of the couple’s philanthropy.
Colin Murty Newspix

Andrew Forrest, the chairman of Fortescue Metals Group and co-founder of The Minderoo Foundation, recently returned to study and completed a Ph.D. in marine ecology at the University of Western Australia. “I realized a few years ago that if I wanted to protect our oceans to the best of my ability in the way I needed to, I had to truly understand and immerse myself in the issues,” he says.

It’s a hands-on approach to philanthropy that he shares with his wife, Nicola. Through their Minderoo Foundation, launched in 2001, they have championed causes as far-ranging as fighting childhood cancer, supporting early childhood education, creating stronger communities through the arts and culture, and ending global human rights abuses. “Nicola and I are motivated by a strong desire to arrest unfairness wherever we see it, and to create opportunities to better the world,” he says. “This underpins Minderoo Foundation, our values, and our philosophy for giving.” To date, the couple has set aside 2 billion Australian dollars ($1.4 billion) for the foundation.

In 2013, the Forrests signed the Giving Pledge, championed by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, in which the world’s wealthiest individuals promise to give away at least half of their fortunes to charitable causes during their lifetimes or in their wills. The Forrests were the first Australians to sign the pledge and among the first who weren’t from the United States.

“Our decision to join the Giving Pledge was driven by a sense of family, love, community, and compassion—and an innate desire to create tangible change,” Andrew Forrest says. “We hope our work with Minderoo Foundation, and our commitment to the Giving Pledge, will encourage others to give what they can to causes that mean something to them.” The couple’s far-reaching efforts and distinguished service have resulted in them both being recognized as an Officer of the Order of Australia, one of the country’s highest civilian honors for service to Australia or humanity at large. Andrew received the award in 2017, and Nicola in 2019.

The Minderoo Foundation takes its name from an Aboriginal word meaning permanent and clean water—and Minderoo is also the name of the cattle station in the Pilbara region of Western Australia where Andrew Forrest was raised. As a child, he was in awe of the power and beauty of the natural environment—and acutely aware of how people are dependent upon it for survival. At age 11, a camping trip near the coast left a lasting impression on him when he noticed what appeared to be stars on the ocean and asked his father about them. His father explained that the stars were actually the lights of prawn trawlers as they dredged the sea floor. “I vowed that if ever I had a chance to do something to help the ocean, I would,” Forrest says.

He has followed through on that commitment, with much of the foundation’s work focused on ocean conservation. Its Flourishing Oceans initiative is geared toward ending overfishing and plastics pollution and developing innovative research platforms and technologies with direct conservation applications. “Our oceans are suffering from overfishing, pollution, and the mounting impacts of climate change,” Forrest says. “A key focus of our Flourishing Oceans initiative is to expand global marine protected areas—to safeguard these delicate ecosystems, build resilience, and begin the regeneration of what has been lost. But we know we can’t reach our goals alone. That is why collaboration is so important.”

A newer component of Minderoo Foundation’s ocean work, Sea the Future, targets plastic pollution, which can linger in the ocean for hundreds of years, harming marine life, rivers, and waterways across the globe.

More recently, Forrest has partnered with The Pew Charitable Trusts and Conservation International in the Blue Nature Alliance. The alliance—which includes local and global partners—seeks to accelerate and expand conservation efforts so that 10% of the ocean is protected by 2025. That would mark a significant step toward protecting 30% of the world’s ocean by 2030, which has become the target identified by scientists as essential to helping the ocean rebound.

“Pew has built a terrific reputation over decades for authoritative research and has demonstrated their competence in the expansion of marine protected areas,” Forrest says. “When we heard Pew was exploring a new partnership with Conservation International, we got in touch to get on board quick smart. The Blue Nature Alliance is a perfect example of stakeholders from across industries coming together to collaborate—and that’s when meaningful change happens.”

Forrest stresses that effective philanthropy is not just about bringing money to a problem—funding needs to be matched with unwavering passion, strong ideas, and serious expertise. “At the core of Minderoo Foundation is evidence-based change,” he says, “bringing the best knowledge and expertise to solve major global challenges.”

That philosophy makes for a good partnership with Pew, which for decades has developed a data-driven, evidence-based approach that brings measurable change in meeting some of society’s greatest challenges.

“Andrew Forrest epitomizes the idea that Giving Pledgers should be investing in large-scale, complex problems that require long-term commitments, with a desire to create lasting solutions,” says Tom Dillon, Pew’s senior vice president for environment.“ He is a prime example of how philanthropy can be used to cement meaningful change. But more than that, he is actively working to make sure those changes come quickly. We are grateful for our innovative ocean partnership with him.”

Demetra Aposporos is the senior editor of Trust.

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