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Philanthropy

Building better democracies through journalism

November 15, 2022

Dave Hayer (BA ’82) and his wife Isabelle have a long-lasting connection with SFU. The pair met for the first time in an elevator in the Bennett Library in 1979 while they were both SFU students.

They tied the knot in 1981, and welcomed their first child in 1984; three of their four children would also go on to become proud SFU graduates. Dave, who has been an invaluable member of SFU’s India Advisory Council since 2006, continues to provide his guidance and leadership to strengthen the university’s engagement with India and the local South Asian diaspora.

As children of immigrant parents who share a belief in building stronger communities through service and philanthropy, Dave and Isabelle made a generous gift to support SFU students studying journalism through the Dave Sukhdip Singh Hayer and Marie Isabelle Martinez Hayer Bursary in Journalism. The endowed fund means they will provide that support in perpetuity. Dave and Isabelle recently spoke with SFU about their inspiration to give—and why it’s critical to invest in journalists today.

A Q&A WITH DAVE & ISABELLE

It’s wonderful that SFU has such a special place in the life of your family! Could you tell us a bit more about your experience and why you were inspired to give?

Dave: Isabelle and I both worked tirelessly throughout our studies to make ends meet. My father owned a trucking company and would drive one of his trucks out five to six times a week carrying gravel, sand, dirt, as well as blacktop and salt for the roads. I remember helping him wash these trucks every Saturday and Sunday. He also had a newspaper business in the 1970s, so I spent much of my time supporting him with that as well. I began my studies at Douglas College in 1977 and took on a part-time position at their student newspaper The Other Press. Two years later, I transferred to SFU but continued to work at the publication throughout my studies until 1982. If I wasn’t working hard, I was studying hard. I used to go to the library in the morning and stay in the same cubicle until they closed at night.

Isabelle: It was difficult for me to attend SFU because my parents had a restaurant on the Sunshine Coast and relied on my help. I would commute regularly from the Sunshine Coast to SFU to attend class so that I could manage both commitments. The struggle that I faced is just one of the reasons why we want to support students—because I really had a difficult time balancing family responsibilities with my desire to further my education. Unfortunately, there weren’t as many support systems in place at the time to help students that were facing similar struggles. We cherish the SFU structure that we have seen develop over the years and its commitment to providing equity-based awards for students. Our personal struggles may have made us more resilient, but it’s financial support that transforms lives and opens opportunities.

Dave: Yes, SFU is very close to our hearts. Whenever I was stressed, I would drive up Burnaby Mountain, and it’s like another world. It’s a beautiful university—except maybe in the winter, when you get stuck in the snow!

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO ESTABLISH AN ENDOWED BURSARY INSTEAD OF ANOTHER TYPE OF AWARD?

Dave: We worked with the staff at SFU to decide what would be the right fit for us. In the end, we felt good going with a bursary because it prioritizes financial need and students who might not otherwise be able to attend university. We think it’s important that all students, regardless of their grades or circumstances, are able to pursue postsecondary studies if they want to.

Isabelle: By making it an endowment, we wanted to encourage other donors to contribute so the fund can grow and provide support for many generations to come.

Dave, you have strong ties to journalism. Your father, Tara Singh Hayer, was a well-known journalist and founder of Indo-Canadian Times, who died fighting for his beliefs. You also worked in publishing for many years. Is this why you wanted to direct your gift in this way?

Dave: We face a lot of challenges in journalism when it comes to misinformation. In this day and age, it’s difficult to tell what is true. We wanted to support a student with a passion for the field, and to encourage them to think critically and have robust conversations about the media. The role of the media is to provide accurate and important information for citizens to participate in political life. For this to happen, we need news to represent a wide range of issues from many different perspectives and with a diversity of voices, but today we see a lot of people doing harm and spreading fake news.

Isabelle and I come from very diverse families, and that’s what makes Canada what it is—people from many different backgrounds working together to make our country better. I went into politics and served as a Member of the Legislative Assembly for Surrey-Tynehead for 12 years because I wanted to improve and strengthen our nation’s democracy. So, in my mind, the more we can do for journalism, the better we can do for democracy.

BOTH OF YOU ARE VERY INVOLVED IN BUILDING UP YOUR COMMUNITIES. YOU’VE GENEROUSLY INVESTED YOUR TIME AND RESOURCES TO MANY NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATIONS IN SURREY. WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO KEEP GOING?

Isabelle: We are trying to show to our children, grandchildren, and all those in our lives, by example in action, what lifelong learning while giving back to the community looks like and the benefits for all.  We want to show others that they can also have a positive impact in the community. We humbly share what we have and give as much as we can. We live a modest life and believe that giving back to the community is vital for the benefit of generations to come.  We are encouraged that our four children will carry on this practice of giving as an example for their children and to future generations.

Dave: My father always encouraged us to help out. The need is a lot more than what we can give, but education is very important and we do our best to support institutions like SFU. Educating tomorrow’s leaders—this is what our future is all about.

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