Michael Steele (BASc ’81) knows first-hand how the influence of an individual or event can change the course of a career — or even a life. His parents set an example that shaped Michael’s values. Those values, along with relationships with key business figures, helped determine his career path and led to business success.

Now, Michael and his spouse Stacey are giving University of Waterloo students the chance to find their own life-changing opportunities and relationships. Through two awards inspired by Waterloo’s former president Feridun Hamdullahpur, The Steele Family Foundation will help to eliminate financial barriers to varsity sport and nonprofit work. These experiences will in turn prepare them to thrive as competitors and community builders.

Turning hardship to hope

“I remember my father telling stories about his upbringing in the 1920s. He had a pretty harsh life,” Michael said. Thomas Steele grew up in poverty in London’s East End. He joined the British Marines at age 17 after a series of personal tragedies and was wounded in combat. While recuperating in a Calcutta hospital, he met Mother Teresa; the impact of her work with the people she called “the poorest of the poor” stayed with him for the rest of his life.

“My parents taught us to be independent and to appreciate the things we had,” Michael said. Years later, these deeply ingrained values sparked a philanthropic mission: “How can we put together all of our learning experiences and blessings and create a better life for the less fortunate?”

In 2007, Michael, his mother, father and aunt formed The Steele Family Foundation to offer disadvantaged people education, basic humanitarian services, and community support on a grassroots level.

As part of the Foundation’s focus on supporting educational causes, Stacey created the WISE Scholarship Program™ to help students abroad attain post-secondary education while giving back to their current schools and communities.

“We are strong believers that education leads to opportunity,” Stacey says.

The Foundation’s support will now also benefit Waterloo students.

Finding direction through co-op

“The biggest challenge all young developing minds have is determining what direction they should take their energy and hidden talents,” Michael says. As a civil engineering student, Waterloo’s co-op program played a pivotal role in helping him find his career direction.

In his third co-op term, Michael was working at John Labatt Limited when Brascan, a division of the Bronfman business empire, purchased the holding company. During his term, he met business leaders at both companies and later went on to work for the Bronfmans.

Stacey and Michael know the positive impact of meeting people of influence at a young and impressionable age. Michael’s exposure to these leaders prompted him to use his engineering skills in business development and led to a highly successful career in sectors ranging from mining to food processing to real estate.

Michael and Stacey hand blankets to a group of women wearing saris

Michael and Stacey distribute bedding to people experiencing homelessness in Tamil Nadu, South India. The Steele Family Foundation is helping to build a school nearby.

Supporting nonprofits, building careers

To provide Waterloo students with equally meaningful co-op experiences — while also addressing key societal issues — The Steele Family Foundation has established the Feridun Hamdullahpur Change Makers in Co-op program through a $200,000 gift. The program will fund co-op positions at nonprofit organizations.

“Many students are interested in exploring roles in the charitable sector, where they feel they can build new skills and a sense of purpose while making a positive impact on their communities. However, non-profits often struggle to afford talent,” says Norah McRae, associate provost, Co-operative and Experiential Education.

“Through the generosity of The Steele Family Foundation, students have new opportunities to both develop and apply their skills in a nonprofit setting, and these agencies will benefit from their talents. We are grateful to Stacey and Michael for their investment as we prepare the next generation of leaders in the non-profit sector.”

Through the generosity of The Steele Family Foundation, students have new opportunities to both develop and apply their skills in a nonprofit setting, and these agencies will benefit from their talents.

NORAH MCRAE, associate provost, Co-operative and Experiential Education

Preparing leaders through sport

The Steele Family Foundation has also made a $50,000 gift to endow the Catherine and Feridun Hamdullahpur Athletic Excellence Awards. As a formal student at Waterloo, Michael competed on the varsity track and field team. Stacey and Michael hope that these awards will ease the financial burden faced by top student-athletes on women’s varsity teams and allow them to focus on their game. By encouraging these individuals to pursue their passion for sport, these awards will help prepare them for leadership roles, while setting an example for future athletes.

Gender equity, varsity sports and student development are causes that are dear to Catherine and me. We are immensely touched by Stacey and Michael’s efforts to help future Warriors share their talents, leadership skills and ideas to create a better world.

FERIDUN HAMDULLAHPUR, former president, University of Waterloo

Inspiring an investment in students

Just as Thomas Steele’s stories shaped Michael’s values, and meeting the Bronfmans changed the trajectory of his career, the Foundation's gifts are the result of another relationship.

When Stacey and Michael met Feridun Hamdullahpur several years ago, they were inspired by Feridun’s dedication to helping students reach their full potential.

“Feridun’s personal commitment to making change for Waterloo students interested us. We wanted to keep working strategically with him, and people like him, who are true influencers,” Michael says.

“Through these gifts,” Stacey adds, “we hope to help as many students as possible take steps towards social change, and acquire the skills they need to move forward with their dreams.”