Sisters and co-founders of the Gattung Foundation Angela (left) and Theresa Gattung plan to give away millions of dollars in the coming years. Photo / Babiche Martens
This week, philanthropic sisters Theresa and Angela Gattung will launch a multi-million-dollar charitable foundation to work in key areas of need, putting an official stamp on work they have been doing for years. Jane Phare reports.
Businesswoman and entrepreneur Theresa Gattung won’t put an exact figure on what the Gattung Foundation will give away, other than to say it will be in the “tens of millions of dollars”. Over their lifetimes, Gattung, 60, and her sister, 58, will continue to donate money, their time and expertise, and use their networks to help women, and to help animals in need.
The foundation is unashamedly female-skewed. ‘What about the boys?’, they’re often asked.
Angela Gattung laughs when parroting her sister’s response to that question.
“When Theresa is asked, ‘What about the boys?’, she says, ‘Go find another charity.'”
The pair grew up surrounded by women. There were four girls in their family. Their dad, whom they describe as “the first feminist in the family”, had five sisters, and their mother had two.
There wasn’t much money, but Theresa and Angela were smart – both Dux of their college in Rotorua – and raised with a girls-can-do-anything attitude. Now, they say, they want to leave Aotearoa New Zealand a better place for girls who don’t have the opportunities they had.
They are concentrating on key areas – supporting education and learning opportunities for young women, supporting families in need, relieving poverty through grassroots support, lifting women out of situations of inequality, hardship or violence, and improving the care and protection of animals.
In particular, they want to help address an imbalance of educational and professional opportunities for young Māori and Pasifika women, and are already supporting established charities working in that area.
They want to make sure that if young Māori and Pasifika women want to study for a university degree, lack of money is not standing in the way.
Vika Tupou was granted a First Foundation scholarship in Year 13 to study architecture at Victoria University of Wellington, but when she decided that degree wasn’t for her, she lost the funding.
The Gattung Foundation is now funding Tupou for three years to complete an engineering degree at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, support which includes mentoring and work experience.
Tupou, who came from Tonga with her family to start Year 9 at Taita College in Wellington, is one of eight children and the first in her family to attend university. The 19-year-old says starting a new university in a strange city, not to mention the workload, was “stressful”. But she’s enjoying engineering school and says the decision was a good one.
“The Gattung Foundation gave me the extra push that I needed to go for engineering, and I’m really glad that I did.”
Looking ahead, Tupou says she would like to complete a Masters, work for an engineering company in New Zealand, and one day return to Tonga to help with projects there.
“Too much saviour-ism”
Ask Theresa and Angela Gattung for specifics on who else will benefit from the foundation and they talk about “the heart effect” – causes close to their hearts, and ones they know will make a difference. And they won’t be telling charities and communities what they need: they’ll be asking.
“There’s too much saviour-ism,” Theresa Gattung says. “Groups and communities know what they need. They just need to be supported to make it happen.”
To that end, there is as large white van sitting in her driveway ready for the foundation’s launch this week. The sisters, both animal lovers and multiple-pet owners, asked the SPCA what they most needed. The answer was an inspectorate van for Northland, capable of travelling long distances.
Philanthropy isn’t new to Theresa Gattung. When she landed her first fulltime job in her 20s, she immediately arranged direct debits to charities including Women’s Refuge, the SPCA and Amnesty International.
The giving never stopped – both time and money. But there was a limit to what she could do, so she asked her sister to come on board. Part of a close family, the two sisters live across the road from each other in Auckland’s Westmere, and have houses either side of their mother’s home at Waihi Beach.
Angela Gattung, who has a background in the education and social sectors, gave up her role as executive director of charitable trust Kootuitui ki Papakura to run the Gattung Foundation. But she’ll still work closely with Kootuitui, which supports pupils and whānau in a cluster of Papakura schools to provide digital devices to pupils, access to health clinics and services and to promote safe and healthy homes in the area.
Gattung talks about a “lost group of girls” – disengaged teenagers in low-ranking socio-economic areas who have dropped out of school, many getting jobs to help support their families after hardships brought on by Covid-19 and lockdowns.
She believes that what happens in childhood and adolescence has a huge influence on the rest of people’s lives. If a career and work trajectory is derailed, the chances of a prosperous future are also derailed.
“Young women, they need to envisage a different future for themselves than just continuing to pack shelves at the supermarket,” Gattung says.
She wants to put good female role models in front of these women.
“You can’t be what you can’t see. I could aspire to stuff as a youngster because my sister was forging the trail in front of me.”
The new foundation is already supporting nearly 40 initiatives, and there will be more to come.
There’s no formal structure, no advisery board – just the two sisters following what tugs at their hearts and what they believe will make a difference. They’re open to donations to their foundation, but more specifically, they want to partner with other larger foundations to help them scale up.
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