$100m environmental and educational charity launched

JOSH MARTIN
Last updated 05:00 15/03/2014

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Former towel magnates Annette and Neal Plowman have contributed $100 million to set up a charitable foundation to kick start "high impact" environmental and education projects.

The Next Foundation will be chaired by high-flying businessman Chris Liddell.

The Plowmans, who have kept a low public profile, have previously funded projects such as the Rotoroa Island Trust in the Hauraki Gulf, Project Janzsoon in the Abel Tasman National Park and Teach First NZ, which aims to tackle educational inequality.

The Auckland couple made their fortune through a range of business interests, including New Zealand Towel Services as well as farming interests and other investments. They sold Endeavour Services, which owned New Zealand Towel Services, to United States-based Steiner Group for an estimated $200 million in 1998.

Liddell, who is Xero's chairman and a former Microsoft second-in-command, will head the Next Foundation's advisory panel that selects the projects to be funded.

Liddell said the foundation was focused on education and environmental projects because they had "the greatest potential to inspire and create lasting value for New Zealanders".

"We have a vision of creating a legacy of environmental and educational excellence for the benefit of future generations of New Zealanders," he said. "To achieve this vision we will make significant commitments to projects that are aspirational, ambitious and high impact.

"The foundation will be a strategic investor in well-managed projects that deliver a meaningful and measurable return to the education of New Zealanders and the protection of our unique landscape, flora and fauna."

Liddell said the Plowmans' funding was enough to sponsor three large-scale projects a year with up to $5 million each.

The projects were required to be "innovative, ambitious and with less bureaucracy than government projects", he said. "The government has finite resources, but infinite ideas in these areas, so we are looking for ideas that offer something different."

Expressions of interest for grants will open in June and the foundation expects to make its first grant by December.

THE PLOWMANS

The Plowmans' laundry service business was started by George Plowman in 1910

Neal Plowman returned to New Zealand in 1961

Sold Endeavour to US-based Steiner Group in 1998 for $200m

Inducted into Fairfax Media Business Hall of Fame 2007

Leased Rotoroa Island in the Hauraki Gulf and began conservation and restoration work

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