FOUNDER' S STORY
infuriated by a wasted donation, a former Peninsula Hotel manager started his own charity.
2010 Mar. by Hana R. Alberts
Peter Gautschi was ready to retire. In 2001 the Swiss expatriate had just wrapped up five decades in the hotel business, including 30 years managing the famed Peninsula in Hong Kong. Planning to bask in the sedentary life, the debonair 83-year-old figured he’d avoid the stress of travel and instead play golf and make a few charitable donations.
So he joined with Unesco, putting up $40,000 to sponsor a new school in a remote part of China's Henan Province. Gautschi insisted on seeing the results in person; what he found was wasted effort and misspent money. Builders has installed flush toilets, but no pipes to make them functional. There were radiators, but no boilers (which made no difference because villagers couldn't afford oil anyway). Vandals had chipped tiles off the siding, and guardhouses stood idle. Gautschi later learned that the school enrolled barely 200 students, not the 420 he’d been promised. “ I thought I could do better myself,” he says. “When a school is finished, we don’t turn our backs.”
Since then Gautschi’s Studer Trust, named for his mother, has completed 130 projects at a total cost of $1.3 million. Most are schools in China and Myanmar. A barebones classroom-with a red-beamed roof and open sides, wooden tables and benches and a blackboard-costs only $3,500. For another $7,500 the building can be enclosed with doors and windows. Indoor plumbing? Not possible. “Let’s not impose our high standards of hygiene if they don’t have running water,” he says.
To avoid bureaucracy, Gautschi mostly collaborates not with the government but with civilians, In Myanmar he works with a network of monastic schools, in China with a national women’s organization.
Practicality is paramount. After building one school, Gautschi’s crew realized that some students couldn’t cross a river to attend class after heavy rains. So the, next project was a bridge. “If you get organized, there is an incredible amount of good you can do with very little money,” he says.
Indeed, his is a fat-free operation. A part-time accountant and an administrative assistant, both retirees in Hong Kong, work for virtually nothing. To keep overhead low and ensure that all donordollars go toward projects, he personally covers the salaries of a few employees in the field. Gautschi even enlisted his own dentist to volunteer in cyclone-stricken Myanmar.
Helping the kids: Peter Gautschi at scholarship presentation at Jiangxi Economic & Financial University in Nanchang in November.
Costs may be low, but the impact is palpable. The media in Jiangxi dubbed Gautschi the province’s “fairy godfather”. Last October the trust supplied an old-ago home there with 26 blankets. Three months later a Studer employee paid the home an impromptu visit, just in case workers had sold off the blankets. A small success: They were still there.
Silver-haired and a dapper dresser, Gautschi has seized upon his connections in the hospitality industry. One of Hong Kong’s richest families and owner of the Peninsula, the Kadoories, has sponsored schools and houses. Other donors include women’s group Zonta International, the Asia Business Council and Novartis. “When you run a hotel or a business, you have to be efficient,” he says. “There was non of it [with Unesco]. There was no expertise. there was no control, and that’s what shook me. That cannot be charity.”
Gautschi has set up a fund so that the trust’s work will proceed no matter what happens to him. He is hesitant, however, to lay out any ambitious plans for expansion that could sacrifice effectiveness. “ I want this [model] to be perfected,” he says. “We’d like to convince people that there are credible organizations.”
For a video interview with Peter Gautschi, go to
WHO WE ARE
Studer Trust, also known as Margaretha Studer Charitable Trust, was established in 2002 by founder Mr. Peter Gautschi. Having had some experiences with established charities, he decided to set up his own to serve the poor and find the best ways to maximize the value of every dollar spent. He realized that in order to do this, donations have to be isolated from the actual operating costs giving donors the confidence and transparency that is absent in many charitable organizations. The Trust's setup ensures that all operating costs are absorbed and the donor's money reaches 100% the needy.
Together with the help of the Women's Federation
and the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office in China
and Monastic Institutions in Myanmar, Studer Trust has built over 126 schools and other community based projects since 2002.
• To provide facilities and equipment for education.
• To operate within the territory of South East Asia.
• The Studer Trust team lives gender equality every day.
• The Trust is a charity that follows conscientiously its maxim “Respect the spirit of helping” and is independent of any governmental, political and religious organizations or affiliations.
We deeply appreciate each and every donation from individuals to further our mission to alleviate poverty in Asia. Being such a small organization, we hope our donors understand that we do not have the resources to deliver expensive in-depth studies. However, donors can rest assured that sufficient financial information will be provided in a timely manner. We appreciate and need the trust of donors and feel that our record should be ample proof of our sincerity and devotion. Your gift to Studer Trust is tax deductible in Hong Kong and helps to strengthen and to expand our support of a variety of charity projects around Asia, particularly to give children access to education.
Co-Founder and Chairlady
BOARD OF TRUSTEES
Co-Founder and Chairlady
Dr. Silke-Susann Otto
Computer and Data Technician
Executive Director, Myanmar
Project and Program Manager