Who we are: Our founder

The Balnaves Family with Professor Megan Davis holding the Uluru Statement from the Heart

1944 – 2022

Neil worked in the media industry for over 60 years, previously holding the position of Executive Chairman of the Southern Star Group, which he founded in 1988.

Neil was the Chairman of Ardent Leisure Group, one of Australia’s most successful owners and operators of premium leisure assets, from 2003 until 2016. Other former directorships include Hanna-Barbera Australia, Reed Consolidated Industries, Hamlyn Group, Taft Hardie, Southern Star Group and Southern Cross Broadcasting.

He was the Chancellor of Charles Darwin University, from 2016 until 2018, and a former Director and Trustee Member of Bond University, receiving an Honorary Doctorate of the Bond University in 2009. In addition, Neil was a Board Member of the Art Gallery of South Australia from 2013 to 2019, was a former member of the Advisory Council and Dean’s Circle at the University of New South Wales Faculty of Medicine, and in 2010 received an Honorary Doctorate of the University of New South Wales.

His other appointments included Director of the Sydney Orthopaedic Research Institute, a member of the Chairman’s Circle at Sydney Theatre Company, serving on numerous advisory and community organisations, and a Foundation Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

In 2006, Neil established The Balnaves Foundation and in 2010 Neil was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his services to business and philanthropy.

Neil passed away in February 2022 and is greatly missed by his family who will continue his legacy, ensuring Neil’s vision for the Foundation, to create a better Australia, will continue.

The Founder’s Vision

Motivated by a desire to give back to the community and to be a catalyst for change in Australia, The Balnaves Foundation was founded in 2006. With the values of family and social good at its core, it was always Neil’s vision that family members would be actively engaged in the Foundation. With his children enthusiastically involved in setting up the Foundation, joining as Trustees and being instrumental in the selection and execution of grants, his son Hamish joined the Foundation full time as CEO in 2009.

Neil’s belief was that direct involvement would educate his children and grandchildren about the community that they live in and nurture a philanthropic ethos in the family for generations to come.

Creating change requires innovation and taking risks, two characteristics that shaped Neil’s philanthropic vision and, in his view, distinguishes philanthropy from government capacity to drive change, thus a good measure of advocacy is also involved.

Belonging to a new breed of Australian philanthropists, Neil believed “Philanthropy shouldn’t be hidden in a cupboard or kept under the table – it needs to be much more visible. I’ve taken the view, as have others like me, that we’re so far behind the rest of the OECD countries, particularly the UK and the US, per capita, that we’ve got to raise the profile and put the example out there.”

Following a dynamic philosophy of giving and an interactive approach to granting, The Balnaves Foundation focuses their philanthropy on a diverse range of fields, including the Arts, Education and Medicine with an emphasis on Indigenous Australia, young people and the disadvantaged, with the aim to create a better Australia.

Now more than fifteen years later the Foundation has committed in excess of $40 million towards this goal through proactive and collaborative partnerships.