Stories in philanthropy

'Philanthropy, to me, is being part of building a future': Ulrike Klein

South Australian philanthropist and Jurlique co-founder Ulrike Klein AO has taken a hands-on and “responsible” approach to her philanthropy which has culminated in the development of the world-renown UKARIA Cultural Centre and an ambitious public fundraising project to acquire rare 18th century instruments. “Money is just an energy,” Klein insists. “It doesn’t matter how much you have, it’s how you use it and how you give it.”

Nicole Richards, July 2018


“I’m not a person who is very comfortable with having a public profile,” admits Ulrike Klein, AO.

“I would prefer to just do what I do quietly, but I realised that it’s important in a country like Australia where philanthropy is fairly new that we need to be a sort of role model, walking our talk and saying, ‘This is what I do’. It took a lot of thinking and consideration for me to get to that point,” she says.

Klein’s proclivity for thinking and consideration have no doubt guided much of her business success and later philanthropic achievements. After re-locating from her native Germany to the Adelaide Hills, Klein co-founded natural skincare company Jurlique in 1985 and built it into a successful global brand.

Klein’s passion for nature was matched by her deep love of music and in the mid-1990s, she presented the first of a long-running series of chamber music concerts at the Jurlique factory and herb farm. Despite what Klein deems “questionable acoustics” at the venue, the concerts became sell-out events.

In 2004 Klein sold Jurlique and two years later the new owners advised that they would not continue the concerts.

“That made me think, ‘Alright, what do I do now?’” Klein says. “I didn’t want to put the concerts on privately so I decided to establish a foundation. At that stage [2007], I didn’t want my name to it, so I gave it my maiden name. And I tell you, to establish that foundation was so hard because I couldn’t find anybody who had expertise. It was then a PPF but it was not set up well. I thought it was all too hard – there was no legal support, no accounting support. I was ready to give it up and then then I was introduced to somebody who had already started a PAF and he guided me through it one step at a time.

“We undid what was wrong and then we established a PAF in 2009 and that was set up really well and we grew the corpus bit by bit. And then the Guadagnini instrument program came along and we decided to have the courage to look into it.”

The acquisition of a quartet of rare 18th century instruments crafted by Giovanni Battista Guadagnini at a cost of more than $6 million has been called one of the most significant philanthropic projects in Australia’s musical history.

Klein underwrote the acquisition, committing to donate 50 per cent of the purchase price with the remainder to come from public and philanthropic donations.

“I had no idea about rare Italian instruments,” Klein admits. “The seed was planted when I toured with the Australian String Quartet in 2009 across Europe where they were getting rave reviews. We were at the Dunkeld Music Festival and we saw an artist from Europe perform with a really beautiful instrument and it became so apparent – here we have the Australian String Quartet being ambassadors for Australia and yet they had these very ordinary instruments. I said, ‘Listen, we have to do something about that. We can’t have an Australian String Quartet being ambassadors worldwide if they don’t have the tools of the trade.’”

“It’s an Australian story because it’s for the future of Australia,” Klein continues. “We just had the idea, and we agreed to drive the project, but to collect the money from the public we needed to be DGR1 which meant we needed to be listed on the Register of Cultural Organisations (ROCO).

“It was an amazing learning process,” Klein says with a wry shake of her head. “I wrote the application to the Minister myself. So, in 2010 we became a non-profit ROCO, called UKARIA” [Klein’s initials + the classical music signifier ‘aria’].

As part of the ROCO application, Klein included an idea to build a cultural centre.

“I had no idea what that cultural centre would look like,” Klein says, “but I needed to write it and I thought the future will take care of itself.”

It was only after launching UKARIA and the appeal for public donations to support the instrument program in 2010 that Klein, pictured right with UKARIA CEO Alison Beare, realised more paperwork awaited her.

“I realised I couldn’t give to the organisations I’d supported in the past such as the Australian Youth Orchestra, which was when it dawned on me that I needed a PAF as well,” she says laughing heartily.

The next iteration of Klein’s philanthropic vehicles was the Klein Family Foundation, established in 2011 with the intention of growing the involvement of Klein’s four children who became directors of the PAF. Five years later, Klein’s children pointed out an important and somewhat humbling fact.

“They said to me, ‘Mum, you have such a strong vision and even though you call it the Klein Family Foundation, let’s be honest – it’s more or less all about you,’” Klein recounts.

“I felt it was really important to allow my children to find their own way and their own passions and have their own philanthropic journey, so at the end of the 2016-17 financial year I handed the family foundation over to my children. I resigned as a director and I don’t have any involvement, it’s their responsibility and it’s a learning journey for me as well.

“I admit I had a lot of sleepless nights, but this has been an important step in our journey. I have a PAF of my own now again but it’s starting from scratch.

“My children now have the possibility to find their own path in giving and I learned that wealth in a family is not as important as a spiritual, emotional and even a physical commitment to each other. At the end it’s just money.”


Bringing the dream to life

UKARIA received the final donation that brought the fundraising appeal to its target in December 2017.

“In my heart, I knew we would make it. Absolutely,” Klein says. “There were a lot of people around me who doubted it and I admit it was not easy – it took a lot of work and steadfastness over seven years.”

Alison Beare, UKARIA Chief Executive Officer, says that Klein’s vision and commitment was the driving force that inspired others to give.

“There was a huge amount of learning in terms of, not only Ulrike’s personal philanthropy, but how you inspire others,” Beare says.

“We received $3 million of donations and while some of those were from experienced philanthropists such as the James and Diana Ramsay Foundation, a lot were simply inspired by Ulrike’s story and the audacity of her vision. I really believe it made them think, ‘Gosh if she’s doing that, then the least I can do is give $1,000.’”  

The Guadagnini instruments are held in trust by UKARIA and the current beneficiary is the Australian String Quartet.

Klein’s dream of a cultural centre was realised in August 2015 with the opening of the environmentally friendly, state-of-the-art UKARIA Cultural Centre, an intimate concert hall with seating for 220 guests. The Centre has received wide acclaim locally and abroad, from artists and concert goers alike.

“It truly is a cultural centre because it is a place where the audience and artists come together,” Klein says.

“You can see on the faces of almost every audience member, that the experience is so special. At our first UKARIA 24 concert it was almost like we climbed a mountain together, because it’s such a deeply transformative experience.”

“You know, people at the concerts come and say, ‘Ulrike, thank you for giving us this experience,’ and I say, ‘Thanks for that, but I feel like an audience member too and I’m so grateful to be sitting there in that intimate space being able to experience it’.”

“For me, a really important part of philanthropy is being inspirational,” Klein says. “Giving is not about writing cheques, it’s about having a passion for something, being involved and being responsible.

“Money is just an energy. It doesn’t matter how much you have, it’s how you use it and how you give it. I feel that you are simply a custodian of it. If you hoard it, well, good heavens!

“UKARIA has grown far beyond the original vision and it’s now an entity in its own right, and for me that’s really important, not to hang on, because it will have a life far beyond my lifespan and that is an inner commitment and I get so much back from it,” Klein says.

“I often think about how rewarding is it to live in a country where we built a future, and philanthropy, to me, is being part of building a future.”

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