A Philanthropist farmer: sowing a fairer future

I have been successful because of education and it is very important to give the next generation a chance. Education is the key to closing the gap between poverty and wealth and increasing living standards

John Mitchell is a successful farmer and investor with a passion for economics and reducing income inequality. His philanthropic drive was shaped during a challenging youth and the obstacles he overcame in his pursuit of higher education. As a young undergraduate student in the 1970s, John had to overcome both his father's objections to him pursuing a university degree and a subsequent lack of any financial support. The support that he received from a Whitlam Government scholarship and acts of kindness from the community left John with a powerful motivation to give back both personally and financially.

For John, his undergraduate years at ANU were "a time when I felt safe. For me, ANU was an oasis". The stress of accumulated hardships endured during his school years and work as a jackaroo, as well as his volatile relationship with his father, left John battling severe depression and a subsequent diagnosis of bipolar disorder. While recovering at a psychiatric facility in Canberra, John was inspired by a fellow patient's advice: "you should really give uni a serious go." John recalls the kindness of the other patients collecting coins so that he could purchase "teach yourself calculus" and "teach yourself algebra" textbooks from the University bookshop.

Studying economics and living at Burgmann College gave John a positive direction in life: "I was able to discuss with other students and academics the real-life applications of my economics studies." Not only have those friendships that he formed proved enduring, but the application of economics theory to his investment strategies have proved prosperous. He has been the owner of Towong Hill Station, a cattle and sheep farm in north-east Victoria, for 30 years and has a diverse and successful investment portfolio. John is passionate about ensuring that the benefits he received from studying at ANU are shared with others: "I have been successful because of education and it is very important to give the next generation a chance. Education is the key to closing the gap between poverty and wealth and increasing living standards." John has provided a $5 million bequest for an Endowed Chair at the ANU Research School of Economics to ensure that there will always be world-leading research carried out into reducing income inequality.

In 2016, John established the John Mitchell Research Fellowship with a $490,000 gift to the ANU College of Business and Economics (CBE) Research School of Economics. This will partly fund a young researcher working on income distribution and inequality, taking them to tenure track. John says "researching income wealth disparity, its cause and effects together with public policy towards its mitigation, is a passion of mine." John is also committed to developing farming practices that are better environmentally as well as financially. In 2016, he funded a sustainable farming pilot project with a $70,000 gift to the Fenner School and the CBE's Research School of Finance, Actuarial Studies & Statistics. John believes that ANU, with its history of generating world-leading research, is uniquely positioned to help society, especially in the two fields he is most passionate about: removing inequality and improving sustainable farming practices. Since John established the first John Mitchell Scholarships in 2002, he says: "I've been extremely impressed with how ANU has managed the funds."

 

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