It was the moment that changed his life, so much so that he now visits the region six times a year.
Michael Waring, chief executive of Galileo Equity Advisors, came across dire poverty for the first time when he was on a research trip to China in 1998. “We were near the Great Wall and a five year old was trying to sell us postcards and brochures. She was in rough shape,” said Waring, who decided he “had to do something in Asia.”
In those early days, Waring was largely involved with sponsoring children through regular payments.
A decade later, while again on a business trip, Waring visited Cambodia and reached the same conclusion: “I had to do something. The country has great potential because of its youth (60 per cent of the population is under 25) but if they don’t get an education, there’s no future.”
Waring built two schools, both equipped with solar panels, libraries and computer labs: The first is for kids from kindergarten to Grade Six; the other for kids in Grades Seven to Nine. More than 700 kids attend the schools in the Siem Bap region.
In 2009, Waring visited Vietnam. “If the world was ending, I wanted to see the minority kids in Sa Pa, an area in northwest Vietnam,” he said. He noted living conditions for the Hmong people “are probably worse than in Cambodia,” largely because of the cold winters, inadequate housing and sanitation.
“If lucky they may get protein twice a month. The kids are neglected.”
Waring has since built 23 houses in that part of Vietnam and supported the education of five girls all of whom are halfway through college in Hanoi.
In the adjacent Ha Giang province, Waring has also been busy with building kindergartens, schools, foot bridges as well as providing livestock for families — as part of an eight-year commitment he made to the region.
Charity and partners
To help with all the organization, in 2011 Waring formed Kids in Class, a charity whose mission is “working to improve the lives of children in developing countries.” He funded the organization with $2 million, profits made from an investment in a private oil and gas company. He teamed up with Plan International Canada, an international development organization that spent more than $150 million on international programs in 2016.
Plan determines the priorities based “on the children but especially girls,” who are the focus of Kids in Class.
“They have the worst deal,” said Waring, adding working with Plan International means the money flows directly to the projects with no leakage.
He also teamed up with TD Waterhouse Private Giving Foundation (home to about $300 million of assets) which manages the investments. Income earned by the endowment (about $100,000 a year) is earmarked solely for Plan Canada.
“We don’t spend any of the principal. The idea is for the charity to go on long after I am gone,” said Waring, whose ability to do more would be improved by a stronger Canadian dollar.
Waring will soon be returning to Cambodia to build community projects near the schools. “We will be working on clean sanitation and clean water. In supporting the community, we have to ensure the kids are healthy and can go to school.”
So, what’s his motivation? “As a parent, I feel a responsibility to these children who were born into a different world. I have two children who were lucky enough to be born in Toronto.”
As well Waring gets enormous satisfaction from the hundreds of photographs, mostly of young kids on the way to school, at school, or at play, that are housed on his trusty ipad.