The Myer family manages a broad range of investments through a number of corporate entities
It's 113 years since Simcha Baevski arrived in Melbourne as a near-penniless immigrant from Belarus. But this remarkable man is still changing the face of Australia, almost four decades after his death.
As the youngest of 11 children, Simcha might never have been born. But by the time he died of a heart attack in 1934, he had made a substantial fortune and created one of Australia's most famous and enduring brands.
He was, of course, Sidney Myer, and he makes it onto this list because he left one tenth of his wealth to the community and established a tradition of giving in the Myer family that has lasted four generations and is still going strong.
Today, the Sidney Myer Fund and Myer Foundation (set up in 1959 by sons Kenneth and Baillieu) give away $12 million a year to 150 different causes, with the aim of building "a fair, just, creative, sustainable and caring society, through initiatives that promote positive change in Australia".
Hardly any of these projects are overtly political, but the Myers don't waste their money on cats' homes or soup kitchens and they don't give it to mining companies. They funnel it to causes that help the poor and disadvantaged, or that foster democratic values or enrich our cultural life.
And that's how Sidney would have wanted it. A model employer who provided sick pay and holiday homes for his employees, he distributed shares in his company to staff and executives, and rebuilt his Bourke Street store in the midst of the Great Depression to provide jobs for Melbourne. "It is a responsibility of capital to provide work," he explained. "If it fails to do this it fails to justify itself."
On Christmas Day 1930, Sidney Myer served up lunch for 10,000 unemployed and their families at Melbourne's Exhibition Building, complete with a band and free tram travel, and gave a present to every child. Four years later, 100,000 mourners lined the streets to see his funeral procession.
Nowadays, "half the Myer family is left wing, and half is right wing", according to Peter Winneke, who runs philanthropic services for the Myer Family Company, which manages the family's investments. But you get a distinct flavour of the way the philosophy leans by looking at the causes they support.
There is a strong bias towards indigenous kids in their educational and poverty programmes; they give large amounts of money to the Australian Conservation Foundation and Australian Wildlife Conservancy; they fund programmes for asylum seekers and torture survivors; and their arts programme rewards "courage" in performers as well as talent.
The 2010 Sidney Myer Award for performing arts, for example, went to a gay, Maltese-born cabaret artist and actor, Paul Capsis, who has carved out a niche in portraying transsexual prostitutes.
Meanwhile, their Beyond Australia programme looks east towards Asia, rather than west to Europe and the USA. Two decades ago, the Myer Foundation set up Asialink at the University of Melbourne, "to create a new generation of Australians who are knowledgeable about ... Asia and who understand more fully what we can learn from our neighbours". The foundation is currently funding fellowships for journalists to learn about Indonesia and Islam, so they can "better inform their readers, listeners and viewers".
The Myer Foundation also set up the "Cranlana Programme at Sidney's stately old home in Toorak, to educate Australia's leaders in the "philosophical, ethical and social issues central to creating a just society".
Since it began in 1993, some 2000 public servants and business leaders have attended its seminars or listened to speeches by prominent Australians like Patrick Dodson, Malcolm Fraser, Michael Kirby, Sir Gustav Nossal, Tim Flannery, Robert Manne, Raymond Gaita and CSIRO chair Simon McKeown.
Names like Lord Monckton, Alan Jones, Ian Plimer, Andrew Forrest, Gina Rinehart, John Howard, Tony Abbott and John Roskam are conspicuously absent from its speaker list.
But the Myers' philanthropy is political in another way, in that it pushes others to give more. The Myer Family Company uses its skills to help others establish their own foundations. And there is a crying need for that.
Despite Australia's self-image as a generous nation, we are meaner than most. We give a paltry 0.36% of our income to charity, according to Winneke, who describes this as "woefully embarrassing". People in the UK, by comparison, give away an average 1.1% of their incomes, and in the USA 2.2%.
The figures look even worse if you focus on the rich. Australians worth more than $20 million donate an average 1% of their income a year, while rich Americans give away around 15%.
"We're trying to get that message out into the mainstream," says Winneke. "But it's hard to get publicity."
"We've also set up 70 family foundations in the last seven years, mainly with self-made entrepreneurs who are realising it may not be a good idea to leave too much money to their children."
The Myer Family, by comparison, is already encouraging its fourth generation to get into giving, with a programme called G4, whose aim is to look after the welfare of young people between the ages of 12 and 25. One of its grants targets youth mental health. Another supports gay people in rural areas, offering advice and a safe meeting place online.