Composer Ann Southam leaves legacy gift of over $14 million to Canadian Women's Foundation

Gift marks largest individual donation to a Canadian women's organization

TORONTO, October 25, 2011 /Canada NewsWire/ - The Canadian Women's Foundation, Canada's public foundation dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls, is receiving a donation of over $14 million from celebrated music composer and Order of Canada Member, Ann Southam. The gift from Southam, who passed away in November 2010 at age 73, is the largest single donation a community-based Canadian women's organization has ever received from an individual. It will take the Canadian Women's Foundation work to a new level.

Beverley Wybrow, President & CEO of Canadian Women's Foundation, said she was "stunned" when she learned of Southam's generosity. "Ann cared passionately about making positive change for women and girls in Canada," says Wybrow. "She was involved with the Foundation for more than 12 years, as a donor, volunteer, and a spokesperson on behalf of strategic philanthropy benefiting women and girls. She got involved in our work because we shared her values. I believe she found a home with us."

Southam was one of Canada's most notable women composers, and an inspired philanthropist. She was born in Winnipeg but lived most of her life in Toronto. She began composing music at the age of 15. After studying at the University of Toronto and the Royal Conservatory of Music, she launched a highly successful career composing music for modern dance companies, such as the Toronto Dance Theatre. She also taught at the Royal Conservatory. Southam once compared writing music and playing the piano to traditional women's work such as weaving, saying it required the same kind of time and patience. Ann was an inspired philanthropist committed to changing the world through investing in women and girls. She supported shelters for abused women, programs to help women get out of poverty by getting into trades and technology careers, and programs building resiliency in girls. She believed in the power of women helping other women and girls.

Southam's brother Kip says he couldn't be happier about his sister's gift to the Foundation. "Ann was passionate about many things, but issues for women and girls were particularly close to her heart," he says. "I know the money will be put to very, very good use."

The Foundation will invest the majority of Southam's gift in its new Ann Southam Empowerment Fund, an endowment to help make the Foundation permanent for the women and girls of Canada. It will generate annual earnings to help support the Foundation's ongoing programs and operations.

Southam's gift will also help to double the size of the Foundation's Girls' Fund, a program she helped to found in 2006.

"There is so much pressure on girls today and they lose ground as they reach adolescence," Southam said in a 2007 interview. "My dream is to get to them before that and give them every chance in the world to succeed."

Girls' Fund programs address challenges facing girls aged 9 to 13, a time when many girls experience a serious decline in self-esteem along with high rates of sexual assault and depression. In the programs, girls learn how to stay safe, how to develop their critical thinking and decision-making skills, and how to challenge media stereotypes that sexualize women and girls and limit their potential. These skills are the building blocks that help girls grow stronger inside and out, and create a solid foundation for a bright future.

Southam strongly believed in women using the power of their own money through charitable giving to help other women and girls. Southam's donation is an example of the new trend of women's philanthropy, where women target their charitable giving to causes that directly affect women and girls. Women are also more likely to give to organizations that challenge the common idea of charity and take a transformative approach to solving economic and social problems, and to use charitable giving in a way that builds communities.

"Ann was special and unique. She was also unassuming - she really didn't care about personal recognition," says Wybrow. "But she would absolutely love the idea that her final gift might inspire others to give women and girls a chance for a better life. When asked why she was so committed to help women and girls, she would say that helping women helps us all - invest in women and they go on to help their families, communities, and societies. And she would then add her favourite saying 'And don't forget, when women have power, girls can dream!'"

Canadian Women's Foundation is Canada's public foundation dedicated to giving women and girls a chance for a better life. The Foundation invests in programs that move women and girls out of violence, out of poverty, and into confidence. Since 1991, it has supported more than 1,100 community programs across Canada. It is one of the ten largest women's foundations in the world. For more information please visit http://www.canadianwomen.org/.